I have spent the last two-three years trying to answer a single question:
How can young people in today’s world start making and sustaining creative change?
Having experimented with curriculum, storytelling and social service, I finally took the plunge and entered the hallowed world of university education. In the last eight months, I have explored creative and meaningful methods in leadership education. And I have emerged a little bruised, a little disillusioned, but a lot hopeful for the world in which we hope to live in.
I started with what my predecessor handed over to me – a textbook, guidelines for two projects, and anticipation. Today, I have discarded the text book, banished those stories of extraordinary leaders, and refocused on what I knew before I got here: leadership is for everyone. There’s no courage involved in this. Just skill. And hope for a possibility of a new world.
Using, what was for me a new and phenomenal methodology, created and honed by Ronald Heifetz and colleagues at Harvard, I focused on the individual story of each student, and each group. The goal was to simulate the different systems that we live in, in the classroom itself. Supplemented by extracts from literature, music and films, I have spent the last ten weeks immersed in the everyday leadership we all experience, we all ignore, we all downplay.
The biggest highlights for me was:
- Watching the shy ones open up, and start influencing their groups – both within their smaller project groups, and the larger class with everyone.
- Watching the confident ones reevaluate their perceptions of leadership and authority, and walk away with hopefully new understandings, ideas, and insights into group thinking and functioning.
- Celebrating each moment of success AND failure, acknowledging success without being thought of as ‘arrogant’ and recognizing that our failures are perhaps the most important sources of learning – more meaningful than any textbook, any other story
- Realising that leadership is not to be feared, not about a single person’s responsibility – but that of everyone.
- Understanding the cultural context – that what might work with mid-career, international professionals might not particularly succeed with young east-Asian undergraduates. And controlling for this.
And from that last point emerged my biggest challenge: how can I create experiences both within and outside the classroom, through which undergraduates can get exposed to the reality that is this diverse world? And the answer lies in the ecosystem’s willingness to allow for this. While I have had a small measure of success in the classroom itself – my own failure lies in my lack of understanding of this complex ecosystem which is the university. In my inability to penetrate the cultural and historical barriers in this region that i now call home.
The challenge in front of me now is to shake this system up a little bit. To show new ways, new ideologies to a highly traditional and conservative institution. The question is: am I more effective where I am; or should I now try from outside?
In the next few months I hope to document these experiments in a little more detail. I hope you will stay with me for them