How leaders would do well to remember their youthful exuberance
[Updated May 29, 2019]
Let’s look at a story from French author Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince, where he recalls time when, as a child, he had aspirations to be an artist.
He puts his talents to the test by presenting his masterpiece to grown-ups and asking if the drawing frightened them. See image 1.
To which, the adults were baffled. Why would a picture of a hat frighten them? Exasperated, he had to redraw his original image and explained that the drawing was not of a hat, but that of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. See image 2.
That story might seem irrelevant for the time being, but we’ll get back to it in a moment.
“Ignite Your Potential” has been the tagline for one of our more special leadership camps namely, SPARK. The camp aims to become the spark that ignites a youth’s leadership potential.
Sponsored by the ECM Libra Foundation in collaboration with Leaderonomics and AirAsia every year, it will be held in December at the prestigious Epsom College in Malaysia, and the best part is, it is free of charge!
What is particularly special about this experience is the people that are involved. Of the 80 participants getting flown in from all over Malaysia, 80% of them will be coming from underprivileged homes or organisations.
This huge diversity provides everyone with a unique chance to interact with people. With EPSOM College in Malaysia being their “home” throughout the seven days, each participant will get a chance to not only explore their leadership potential but also to make a difference in the community.
Although it is essentially a leadership camp where participants will experience learning skills including self-discovery, public speaking and breaking out of their comfort zones, it breaks from the mould of a normal camp by providing its participants a chance to experience in real-time how to organise and carry out a project which makes a difference in the community.
Once their projects are run, participants will get to experience what it is like to present their projects to a panel of industry leaders.
The whole idea is to provide these youths with an experience that mirrors real-life situations where people from all different walks of life will have to come together to work towards a common goal.
When a youth is given an accepting and conducive learning environment, they can often spring a surprise or two.
While a lot has been said about what participants can learn throughout this experience, something often overlooked is how we, as adults, can learn from them as well.
Let’s take a look at some of my favourite quotes from The Little Prince and what we can glean from its pages:
“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”
Going back to the story of the boa constrictor and elephant, the main idea that the author was trying to deliver was that youth view the world differently from adults.
They possess a unique view and always seem to have the ability to seek out the best of situations.
An experience that I can recall was when one of the SPARK project groups visited a retirement home. Ordinarily, it would have been expected for them to simply clean the home or repair whatever needed fixing.
Instead, an injection of youth and creativity ignited ideas from the group as they decided to have a Christmas party for the residents.
They felt that the impact of making the retirees feel young again made more of a difference than sweeping floors or wiping a few windows.
True enough, the smiles on the faces of the residents proved to be an experience that could not be replicated by merely a fresh coat of paint on their walls.
“All grown-ups were once children, but only few of them remember it.”
A lesson in humility, this one. We often think that, as mentors, we are the ones who are supposed to teach young people new things. Quite frankly, that could not be further from the truth.
While we can do our best to guide them, especially when it comes to things like planning and budgeting for their projects, it is they who remind us to be human.
While we are all busy chasing our dreams, we often neglect the little things that make life worth living like playing pranks or having fun. The lesson here is that, if we are open to learn from anyone, we might just be in for a surprise.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
This one is my personal favourite. What is invisible to the eye are friendship, love and compassion simply because, we feel them with our hearts.
At the SPARK camps, with such a diverse group of youths coming together, it was a delightful surprise to witness how effortless it was for them to bond. With a fusion of East and West Malaysian youths, each one of them developed a bond through the seven days that they still cherish to this day.
One of the main reasons for the diversity was to give a mix of personalities from different backgrounds a chance to interact. While most of them do come from underprivileged backgrounds, the divide between each one of them was almost non-existent.
That was a showcase of how youths are able to make friends with such ease.
One particular highlight was how some of the older youths would look out for their younger peers – translating words or slowing down on certain projects so that the younger crop could catch up.
It is simple acts of acceptance like this that gives us hope for the next generation of leaders.
In the end, with all that they learned about leadership and making a difference throughout the seven days, it is the experiences gained that will get etched into their hearts, because “the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart”.
Want to sign up to be part of this experience? 80% of the campers come from underprivileged homes, so seats are limited to the general public. Every year we have auditions to select youths most deserving and prepared to make a difference.
This year, auditions are happening on the 20th of July 2019 at the Leaderonomics office. Head on over to tinyurl.com/sparkauditions2019 to sign up. This audition is only open to Malaysian youths aged 13-16. Email us at email@example.com for more information.
Zachary is an ex-camper, facilitator and part of the Leaderonomics Youth team that runs leadership programmes for youths aged 8-19. For more information about their leadership programmes, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.