On Leadership

There are a number of keys and steps that it takes to become a good leader. There are also many interpretations of what a good leader can be, but I believe there is also a specific formula of characteristics, habits, and traits that separate the good leaders from the bad ones. It is extremely useful nowadays to go over the themes and the values that often make up the blueprint of a good leader whether you are referring to a business executive or to a prime minister. I particularly rely upon using books and other reference materials for further analysis, which help to highlight the importance of leadership when operating under difficult circumstances.

Especially when it comes to working within an adaptive leadership framework, you have to be able to address different challenges and crises that arise which may cause you to adapt your leadership style to fit the times. In order to meet these challenges, a leader has to be open to new ideas, be able to self-reflect, and stay true to the overall vision or goals at hand even when obstacles are thrown in the way.

Each modern and historical leadership figure that you can think of was an adaptive leader since they were not following a specific script or manual and had to sometimes improvise or change their beliefs or views when the time came for it. Still though, these leaders had a steadfast vision, were good communicators, and had the trust of their constituents and colleagues to carry out the work they were doing even under high pressure situations.

The most useful example for me of displaying adaptive leadership in action was the movie “Invictus”. That movie portrays an excellent example set by the former President of South Africa and human rights icon Nelson Mandela as an adaptive leader. He did not let his past experiences of being jailed unjustly in Robben Island cloud his ability to forgive and bring his country together to fight for a better future. He was open to compromise, dialogue, and reconciliation to heal a very divided country.

I think that even if we do not consider ourselves to be natural leader, it would do us a lot of good to put ourselves in other leaders’ shoes to decide how we would act if we had been the leader in those situations. I believe it would be very beneficial for anyone to do role playing scenarios, either historical or modern-day ones, where someone is forced to put our leadership abilities to the test and see how they would do when evaluated by counterparts or colleagues.

Being a principled leader takes time but can be rather straightforward when you really think about it. Anyone can have principles that they stand for but that does not necessarily make a good leader. There are other qualities that make a good leader which involves having a deep sense of who they are including their strengths, weaknesses, and how they can tell their story. Even if a leader has principles, they may not be morally sound or ethically fashionable, which is what someone can conclude when you consider the actions of controversial leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

When you contrast these principled yet morally compromised modern leaders with positives historical examples of real leadership from the likes of President John F. Kennedy or Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, you can get a better sense of how a leader can be principled in their decision-making but still a bad leader in terms of reputation. The Kennedy brothers still had principles, but they were based in sound morals and humane values as well as an ability to reach out for advice and counsel before making an important decision. They were decisive but not arrogant. Both men would be considered well-versed in exercising what is known as emotional intelligence. Under immense pressure, they were able to not let their ego or personal feelings get in the way of making a fateful executive decision that prevented World War III.

I have learned through my own life experience and by reading about other people that a leader must be able to put him or herself in difficult situations where their ability to exercise leadership will be tested. Being able to open yourself up to risk, setbacks, and failure can help to mold a true leader as overcoming adversity has helped many people in the past to rise up to take charge when their community, their country or the world needed them.

You do not need a stirring personal narrative to be a good leader, but it does help you build a strong connection with others. Sharing your story and connecting that story to the larger society is a very powerful tool that can make you stand out as a leader. I believe that a leader should always aim to be authentic when they connect with other people and to see themselves as not the center of attention but a small part of a larger story. To be transformational and a servant of the people, you have to put your ego aside. Those leaders who are the most developed as individuals are those who know themselves well.

A leader must not only be successful in leading himself or herself but also in successfully leading a team to achieve goals and in working together collaboratively. In order to lead a team, every member must be open and honest with each other. Accountability is a key aspect of being a team leader both to themselves and the rest of the group in order to be a more cohesive force.

While the leader has to hold the team members accountable for how they work and what they do, the leader must expect that the team members can also hold their leader fully accountable in response. Each member of the team must live up to the duties expected of them because if just one of the team members isn’t pulling their weight, then everyone on the team will suffer as a result. A true leader will not let the weight of the powers and responsibilities given to them let it go to their head. True leaders must be humble as well as selfless in how they set the example for the rest of the team or organization that they are in charge of.

In a group setting, each member of the team including the leader must be willing to have difficult conversations and point out both the positives and negatives that are ongoing within the team. Sometimes, I believe it is best to pull a team member aside to have a private conversation if the matter is really serious but if it is a consistent yet small error that is hampering progress, then that should be brought up in the team meeting. However, it’s best for the leader or any members to gossip or talk negatively about someone in a passive-aggressive manner.

I, myself, am wary of a hierarchical structure when it comes to leading teams. It creates an unhealthy dynamic where the team leader may not be accountable to anyone in the group but himself or herself. They may be able to critique their team members flaws without any fear, but the team members would not be able to do the same to the leader. The hierarchical system of leadership should be considered imperfect in its nature and I think it’s best to consider a more collaborative approach to the concept of leadership where the team or group take turns becoming the leader at different intervals in order to better understand what it’s like to lead the group rather than just stay on the sidelines and carry out orders from above.

As a leader, you should be willing to bring together qualified people of different skill sets and capabilities together in the hopes of achieving a common goal that you have set for your team. There is an inherent importance of being open with your teammates as well as a willingness to accept your own boundaries within the team or organization. In order to be an effective leader, one must realize their own limits within their given expertise and skillset. A good leader will not try to do everything or infringe upon the necessary work of other team members. Building a true sense of collaboration and cohesiveness instead of competition and infringement is key in order to achieve the goals and objectives you set as a leader.

Being vulnerable with your team members is a key part of being an effective leader. However, there’s a balance that you have to have as a leader. You should be open to having difficult yet necessary discussions with all team members, a few of them, or just one-on-one if the discussion is extremely sensitive. I believe it’s best to be open and honest with your team members rather than closed off and withdrawn. You should act with transparency when it comes to your decision-making process and the actions that the team as a whole should implement. It’s also necessary to not sweep things under the rug and let a small issue become a big one. A leader should also admit his or her own shortcomings, which will let others in the team be more comfortable around you in expressing their flaws as well.

When constructive criticism is warranted both for the leader and team members, it should be discussed. Before criticizing, I think it’s important to follow the rule of saying one or two nice things about the work the team is doing before discussing what should be improved upon. Any kind of critical feedback should be preempted by a positive remark that would soften the blow of a negative comment that could be taken the wrong way. A true leader will let himself hear open feedback from the team he or she is leading and implement those changes to improve the results of the team. Also, it’s the most important job of a leader to delegate responsibilities and tasks well enough so they are not responsible for too much or find themselves to be too prideful to bring on new team members.

Lastly, I think another distinct priority of a leader should be to always actively look for the most qualified people and bring them onboard. Having the diversity of background and of opinion can build a strong team but you must also have a variety of opinions available to you so as to avoid groupthink within the ranks. A leader should be aware of their strengths and weaknesses at all times and be humble enough to fill in the gaps with wise counsel, strategy through the addition of others who compliment his or her area of expertise. Any leader can only go so far in life and in work by themselves, but it is the team, the organization, the army, or the people that the leader builds who can help that leader build their legacy in the history books for their good governance and fair decision-making.

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Cultural Spotlight – Tejo

Most visitors and newcomers who arrive in Colombia may be surprised to find out that the national sport of the country is not ‘football’ as most people would guess given how popular the sport is around the country and due to the high quality of the national team shown in international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup. While Colombians may have the most passion for ‘the beautiful game’ of football, the national sport of Colombia is actually the game of ‘Tejo.’ This was actually an official decree made by the Congress of the Republic of Colombia back in 2000. While not as massively popular as football, Tejo is considered the second most widely played sport in the country and actually fields both teams and competitions in different cities.

Tejo is the oldest sport in Colombia and dates back over five hundred years and is said to have originated with the Musica indigenous tribe who speak the Chibcha language and were based in the northwestern part of Modern-day Colombia. Luckily, the game of Tejo hasn’t changed much since the Musica indigenous people first introduced it in the early 1500’s. However, it’s likely that they used a golden disc known as the ‘Zepguagoscua’, and the game of Tejo was known as ‘Turmeque’ back then and was played mainly by the indigenous peoples located in the modern regions of Cundinamarca and Boyacá.

The Spaniards who came to Colombia are known to have used wooden disks when they played the game and focused more on the accuracy of their throws than the distance of the throws, the latter which is more of a factor when playing the modern game today. From gold disks to wooden disks to stone disks to now using iron metal discs for playing, the game has evolved mainly in what material you’re using in order to get the furthest yet most accurate throws.

The main objective of Tejo hasn’t changed that much though in that you’re going to want to take the iron metal disc in your hand and underhand toss it about 15-20 meters so that you’ll hit the metal ring known as the ‘bocin’ as well as the ‘mechas’, which are triangular paper packets that are filled with gunpowder. You get the most points for hitting the bocin in the middle of the clay landing field but you can also receive from three to twelve points from hitting the different mechas and causing some loud explosions that are likely to earn you both some cheers and high fives.

While players should focus on the metal ring, you’ll also want to focus on hitting as many mechas as you can when you step up to throw the iron disk. When you hit the gunpowder packets, there is a loud bang like an actual gunshot and you may even see some white smoke emerge from the exploded triangular packets. Tejo is a pretty simple game to learn and only takes a couple of tries for you to get the hang of it. The iron disk only weights about two kilograms or so and if you get a good arch on the underhand throw, you’re likely to hit the clay field or even the mechas, bocin if you’re lucky. Tejo is a mix of skill and luck in my opinion but it’s quite exciting to play especially when you make some of those gunpowder packets explode for everybody to hear.

Both men and women are welcome to play Tejo and the only difference is that guys use the two kilogram iron disc and the ladies can choose to use a smaller, one kilogram iron disc if they would like to as well as being able to do the underhand throw from about fifteen meters away, which is a bit shorter than the regular distance of twenty meters or so. These rules aren’t mandatory for women so it is up to the individual lady what kind of distance or disc that she intends to use for Tejo.

Tejo is also a team game so you can play with up to five other people on the same time to face another team with the same amount of people. You’re often rooting each other on to hit the bocin or mechas in order to reach a certain amount of total points in order to win the match. There are numerous amounts of teams and competitions that are held all across Colombia and even in the neighboring countries of Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, etc. Prize money is often involved in these competitions so certain Tejo players take this game very seriously if you’re playing for more than just bragging rights.

Tejo has become quite a popular sport with tourists and foreigners who come to Colombia and you can include me amongst those people. One of the aspects that Tejo that first time players find to be interesting is the ability to drink alcohol such as beer, rum, or aguardiente during a game. While this next statement can be disputed, it’s possible that you will get better throwing the Tejo at the clay field the more you drink although it depends on the individual player. It’s important to note that you can play Tejo completely stone cold sober and you would still have a lot of fun. Tejo is overall a social sport that should be enjoyed either amongst friends or between close-knit teams.

Unfortunately, it took me about ten months of living here in Colombia to finally play the sport of Tejo but it’s easy to say that I’m glad I finally did. While I wouldn’t play it competitively, it’s a sport that is a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people or locals in your city. The combination of throwing metal discs at gunpowder triangles while drinking a cold beer is a good one overall. Tejo has been apart of Colombian culture going back to over five centuries ago and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

 

First and Last Projects

teamwork
“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

As apart of my training program to become a Volunteer for Peace Corps – Colombia, my fellow trainees and I have worked hard over these past weeks and months in developing and implementing mini-projects in partnership with our community here in different ways.

Overall, there have been three community projects that we have been working on over these past two months. All of us trainees together have worked on a ‘Limpieza La Comunidad’ or ‘Cleaning up the Community’ project with local citizens in an effort to make the parks and the local river here cleaner and safer for everyone. So far, we have conducted two clean-ups so far during the weekends which have at the central park of our town and then most recently at the ecological park and the area near the football stadium.

It has been a real joy to work with the young people of the community especially. The children and teenagers, who have helped us with the clean-up process the most. They have been extremely enthusiastic and willing to pitch in to assist and work with us. I have worked with one child in particular, named Jesus, age eight, who has helped me specifically with picking up the trash and sweeping the leaves. For both times where we have had our clean-up project in different parks, Jesus has been there to be my partner and help me with my big trash bag. I hope that after we leave for our volunteer sites in mid-April that the children, teenagers, and young people of our current community will become the next leaders of this clean-up effort and will continue these projects and make a sustainable difference in their town.

In addition, my colleagues and I have been able to create two mini-projects related to English education here in the community. A few of my fellow trainees have started a ‘reading buddies’ after-school program where they have read books alongside children and teenagers over the past couple of weeks. Others and myself have worked hard to create a community English class based around conversation lessons that have taken place on Thursday nights and during the weekends.

My fellow trainees and I have split the hours of teaching between ourselves and now provide about three hours a week between the three of us in giving conversational lessons in basic English to those members of the community who want to learn and expressed sincere interest to us in attending our classes. I have been very pleased with the turnout for my community class on Thursday nights and the hard work, engagement that my students have had so far for learning conversational English.

Eight adults showed up for my first class last week and I hope that they will continue coming to class over the next few weeks. For this program, I also hope to designate a leader(s) to continue having English classes within the community. If possible, I will select an adult with the English skills necessary in order to teach his fellow Colombians and keep the class going into the future. I always think back about how lucky I was in the past to pursue my passion for foreign languages and how I was able to take Turkish and Arabic classes at night and also attend Spanish conversation groups as well. It has been great giving that same opportunity to those adults interested in learning my language and developing their conversational proficiency.

Lastly, my fellow trainees and I have successfully completed recently two separate training sessions for the English teachers in our community. The topics have focused around creating speaking and listening activities for their students in an interactive way, as well as working on the pronunciation of difficult sounds in the English language. Both ‘charlas’ or teacher training sessions have been well attended; the teachers were enthusiastic about sharing what they had learned from us and applying this knowledge in their classrooms for the future.

As our first projects finish up over the next few weeks, I can say that we made a meaningful impact in our community during our training program. Each of the trainees has worked hard, provided a lot of time and effort, and have developed good relationships with the local community too. I believe that we can hold our heads up high as we head into April 2016 and the beginning of our formal volunteer service here in Colombia.