Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sensitivities and Challenges in Youth Leadership and Governance:

Those who have given the opportunity to lead any organization, team, a small group in class could always justify that leading is always a work and no immediate personal glory. Leaders are always subject to judgment/ criticism may it be constructive or not. I remember myself even asking, “Why am I doing this?” For the past years that I am confronted to different leadership environment, I have never found concrete answer except repeatedly telling people that I am happy. It satisfies my soul (in an exaggeration).

Ladies and Gentlemen, a pleasant day! It is my honor and joy that I am given this chance to impart to my fellow young minds my own lessons learned in the affairs of youth leadership and governance. Let me call it sensitivities and challenges. This has become a way of life to me for the past 16 years of continued learning both in the academe, workplace and in the community. It may not necessarily heading the organization but at least having roles (how simple it may be to others) for me to express and maximize my passion of working in an organization.

I remember my bro in the fraternity. He gave me a table piece that has an engraved print on it. It says, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision (dream) into reality”. I was taken a backed upon receiving the simple gift. I said silently, “Truly when we are working on our vision, we can make it happen.”

Setting the Boundaries

In this presentation, I will focus on diagnosing my own notes of experiences on youth leadership and governance. Tracing a historical journey will be an important ingredient in trying to draft a concept of youth leadership and governance. This will include more importantly sensitivities and challenges that I have experienced for the past years that I have been in this discourse. I hope I will inspire and influence you of my own humble understanding of leadership and governance.

Leadership and Governance
In a General Understanding

The Encarta Dictionary in the internet defines leadership as the ability to guide, direct, or influence people[1]. In the same manner, leading is showing the way to others. On the other hand, governance would mean providing control and authority.

The two definitions presented above are general definitions that have changes overtime depending on the experience of the doer of the action. It may be different to many of us but surely having common denominators. The difference is on how we guide, direct or influence people and how we set mechanisms of control and authority. All of these will be tackled in the later part.

As a conceptual warning, I would like to note that both leadership and governance are two inseparable terms in the conduct of management. If you are only a leader and cannot govern then you cannot manage an organization. Likewise, if you able to control people and provide authority but is not able to give them good directions then you cannot also manage. Leadership and governance are interdependent, interrelated concepts in managing institutions and organizations. They simply form part of what we call elements of management that are planning, organizing, leading and controlling.

The practice of leadership and governance requires that a person is equipped with basic requirement for discourse. That is, dialogue. (We will not make focus on this anyway.)


Sensitivities

To facilitate the creation of an environment for good leadership and governance, an appropriate approach must be use. The question is, “how are we able to identify the appropriate approach?” In my journey in the field, I never found any single mechanism suited to the different organizational environment I have been. Surely, you will agree with me. You cannot be autocratic to all or democratic to others. Careful diagnosis shall be set in place.

Let us first diagnose different types of organizations. We divide it in three columns of formal organizations, semi-formal organizations, and community organizations/ project organizations. We will look into how meetings are set and how decisions are made before the projects and/or programs are delivered to the direct beneficiaries.

Formal youth organizations include the student governments, student councils, school paper, or any organization that requires the usage of strict parliamentary procedures in the delivery of its outputs (may it be project, resolutions, etc.). This is a highly sensitive organization because it usually relies on the parliamentary system or process. The problem with this type of orientation is the high level of far-attainment of goals or non-attainment of goals at all due to tedious process and scheme. This requires intensive bureaucratic measures that when not used properly will boils down to non-performance of action.

Knowledge and technical expertise on the matter is the key to achievement of high results. No matter how good is the proposal if not properly addressed on the floor, the proposal is killed. The majority ruling in the parlance would also mean that before the proposal is passed on the floor, the proponent will have to invite friendship, relationships, agreements and consensus (even at the very personal level). I remember when I was leading our high school student and our university student council, we end up even late at night debating and even quarrelling in order for the proposal to be approved in the floor. Various motions for recess, refer to the committee etc. sprouted on the discussion.

While I was hardly trying to set aside personal relationships over professional work in the organization, you cannot help but recognize the creation of personal alliances inside the organization. Indeed the student government and student council are difficult to manage as each has to cater various mandates.

Semi-Formal Organizations include other academic organizations in the campus (college-based and department-based). It may also include sports organizations in the campus. Unlike student councils, the mandates of semi-formal organizations are more exclusive and inclusive. For example, when I head the organization of political science students and the PE student organization, concerns are only focus on trainings and for a (for PolSci Society) and sports activities (for PE student org). We govern and control less number of people and it is easier to call for a general assembly meeting to decide on simple matters such as acquaintance parties, conduct of symposia, etc. Often, officers do not decide on activities but the general assembly. Often also, the officers become the implementer of the decision decided by the general assembly from preparing of documents to purchase of goods and services. The officers became simple workers for the general public in that case.

There is a gap that is so obvious among semi-formal organizations. While semi-formal organization has a constitution to follow, this is seldom followed. Often, we resort to simple agreements in the delivery of services for the constituents.

Meanwhile, because this type of organization is inclusive, they are able to respond to other concerns. Participation at the larger scale is small.

Community Organizations/Project-based Organizations are also called interest groups (borrowing from the words of Prof. Lorenzo Laroco[2]). They include civic organizations, political groups, and religious organizations in the campus that can both explicitly operate in the campus and outside the academe.

Organizations like these are concerned not on numbers of members but on the impact the organization is seen. They may be composed of small number of members but can cater to larger number of population

Tasking in these types of organizations are not very complicated. The leader will identify the project or program (most often already included in their yearly plan) and adopt a mechanism of tasking to be able to deliver goods and services to the public they are serving. Explicit or not, I could see an application and use of the Technology of Participation in these types of institutions.

The problem with these types of organizations is the tendency of the leader to be more autocratic than democratic in the exercise of power, influence or authority. There are two reasons however, why these can happen. For one, the members simply allow the leader to plan for them and tell them what to do afterwards. To counter this is the need to provide for feedback mechanism for the members and other officers to provide suggestions on how the program/project will be delivered. Also, a good democratic exercise is the participation of all members at least in the general planning of the yearly program of actions.

Now, being able to digest how these types of organizations work and how leaders behave in these organizations, I am able to draw basic assumptions to wit;

Organizations have different leadership needs. A leader cannot be autocratic/ democratic to all. However, there is one common denominator to be set: a leader must impose explicit participation of his/her members to planning and implementing the projects, programs, activities, and events.
Heads of organizations should be professionalized. Although, we can create relationships, bonds, camaraderie and friendship in the organization, work inside the organization should be taken professionally to avoid biases and misunderstanding on favoritism and personal gains over general mandate.
Leaders are honed by experience. No one has become a good leader without learning from lessons of the past. Understanding different leadership environment requires acceptance of eclectic norms in serving both the organization and the constituents.


In a context, the key for a leader to be successful is for him/ her to stay steadfast and committed to the organization he/ she is handling. When I chose an organization, I see to it that I will stay long and committed to the mandate of that organization. I started as a member (follower) before I lead the organization. Gains are fruitful when it is done long-term than short term.

The sensitive needs of an organization are equal to the sensitive needs of the members, the constituents or even the population/ community the institution is serving. Questions like these shall be addressed in the open-forum:

Is the leader sensitive on the eclectic background of the members (cultural, personal, and societal)?
Is the leader equipped with knowledge and skills in both the technical and reportorial needs of the organization?
Is the leader able to adapt to the community or populace he/ she is serving?
Is the leader prepared in the challenges he/ she will be confronting while leading the organization?

The fourth sensitive issue is discussed later. The other three are generic to everyone.

In my continued search for leadership and governance, I have faced many kinds of people. Some are so intelligent and brilliant that are not easy to please—perfectionists they say. Some are not serious in their endeavor (the diploma mill type and for fame’s sake). Some are simply workers and servants for good. Whatever it is, we should not judge them.

It was in my college life when culture and religion has been an issue of my leadership. Having served the college student council, I was confronted of the realities of cultural and religious sensitivities. I was able to diagnose the necessity of intercultural dialogue in a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, political factions became serious at a young age (youth at that). It is in the University where I learned the political clashes of student political parties. The importance of a political machine for support has been a question of authority and mandate. Acceptability from other organizations and groups in the campus became a weapon to win the highest post in student governance. Is that what are we in power for? …to quarrel and fight others to gain leadership? … in service for the students? That is the prerequisite to political power.

Anyway, let is assume that the common denominator to their coming together is curiosity.

Meanwhile, there is always this important skill lacking among leaders. It is the ability to transfer technology and skills to their organization that will help the organization run smoothly. Every year, (in my experience) there is that what we call not a transition period but a new period (no documents and files to benchmark etc.).

Also, aspiring leaders do not realize the need of the technical know-how of their field. They seem to look at leadership as mere inspiring and influencing people… of coming people together. Of course papers and records are not necessarily oxymoron to good leadership in the public but a requirement for the organization to run smoothly.


Challenges

It is in youth leading and governing that I come in terms of my being and identity and importance as an earthling. As a prologue, I remember my challenging family and personal history that give way to my passion to work and stay in organizations. I am raised in a poor family. Resources were very limited. I even have premonitions of not finishing my academic endeavor. Even more are the following challenges that I have to face on a daily basis if I wanted to pursue a successful leadership carrier.

First in the list is a personal challenge. In the latter, I mention that I was raised in a poor family. Neither my mother nor my father finished schooling. My siblings were not able to finish formal schooling as well. Resources are scare for us to be able to survive. The question that I usually ask myself is, “how am I going to lead others if I have a survival problem?” Dream/ vision is my only hope in the field.

I remember myself attending to leadership trainings and workshop without a dime on my pocket. I remember I was always excluding myself in some group dynamics because I do not have resources to contribute. Nevertheless, it did not hinder me; rather push me to be resourceful. I even tell my other colleagues (just to keep me away from contributing a dime), we should solicit to people, create income generating mechanisms than picking something from our pocket.

Lesson one, leading is not having money rather resulting to resource mechanisms.

Secondly, I am confronted by nature of societal acceptance. I remember when I was in my elementary years, as I leader I felt I was not; rather an errand boy. (This is not an exaggeration.) My teachers often asked me Nonoy do this and that. I thought of it very negative because my other colleagues seem not This is were I learned to become more of a servant thus develop the attitude of servant leadership (lesson two). The societal acceptance is always connected with my personal conflict.

Lesson two, servant leadership.

Few people notice that in training I have been to, I sit in a corner. I remember an organizer of a national leadership/ youth camp told me, “you seem alone in the corner during free sessions. Why not mingle?” I responded, sige lang po. That response is actually equivalent to I could not because I am seem different from them… they have what I do not have (souvenirs to share for example).

Third is the role modeling challenge. While most of the aspiring leaders have models to look upon, I neither have in my early years in the passion. Maybe because my parents did not or could not teach me whom to look up as a role model. I am confronted by the daily mystery of learning, relearning and unlearning from different leadership models.

Lesson three, role modeling.


Pains and Gains

In the earlier part of my paper, I mention that often leading would mean work, work and more work. Sometimes, when not recognize, the leaders feel that this the pain part of their leadership aspiration. When people complain of our weaknesses as a leader we seem cannot do anything expect say: Tao lang po. This has become simple scapegoat of our setback as growing leaders. We should accept the fact that our audience would not simply understand our weaknesses.

In addition to that, we will neglect many of our “other” priorities. Among these are studies, friends, breaking of relationships and allies (because of our idealism), and constraints to time management. You know all these my dear fellow aspirants.

Amidst these pains are simple gains. But a warning! We should not focus on the rewards rather let the rewards come in its time after we have labored. Among these are:
opportunity to be known in the community;
chance to attend trainings and seminars;
opportunity to be recognize by other entities.

The above enumerations are personal gains. There are however more fruitful gain; that is to be able to help and serve our constituent. On the other hand, we are able to inspire them and influence them of the inner goodness we have. We silently let people grow.


Concluding Remarks

Still, what are we in power for? No one has a perfectly crafted answer to this neither vague nor ambiguous question. I don’t have either.

My innocent and humble beginnings as a continuing aspirant leader of my fellow youth, made me ponder to work better and learn from my own setbacks. I don not see someone is better than the other (such that this administration is better than whom). But I will be more happy to see organizations improve every year rather than compare. Leadership competition has no place for me in the culture of peace. Complimentary mechanism must take place.

With all experiences and lessons learned, I still would have to say that leading has never been an easy task but the fruits are rewarding when done seriously and sincerely. But toi make this difficult journey a livable one, I always remind my self of looking into how others have reach the glorious moments in their leadership career while still putting their feet on the ground. There is nothing to be proud of… just be happy at least.

Nature did not force me to lead people. It was not by chance. It was an opportunity I did not let escape like a delicate butterfly.

There are indeed some rewarding moments of journey. Speaking in front of you is more than an opportunity but a gift. May you find your gift this yuletide season.

Thank you for giving me this chance. Wassalam.
[1] From http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/leadership.html
[2] Prof. Lorenzo Laroco is the Student Affairs Director of Mindanao State University—GSC.

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