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October 13, 2019 Sunday 07:31:04 PM IST

Born to follow or lead?

Photo by Steve Watts for PIxabay

By Sreekumar Raghavan
“We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by”-Will Rogers, US Humorist and showman.

The conventional thinking is that some people are born to lead while majority are born to follow. It may be true that in entertainment industry and sports, all can’t be heroes. The industry can thrive only if there are a few heroes and more admirers.In business, politics, government, teaching, industry, medicine and several other professions, some people are chosen to lead while most people refuse to take any initiative or are unable to get opportunities to show their leadership qualities. 
The first lessons
The first lessons in leadership should naturally start from schools. However, teachers tend to favor or hand pick certain students with communication skills and good physical attributes to take the lead in many activities in school. This leaves the majority of the other kids to remain in the periphery and get typecast as ‘average’ lacking initiative and unable to take the lead in activities.
Even as the school systems in India tend to create more followers than leaders, they do have certain programs or activities that inculcate leadership and responsibility towards others.
National Cadet Corps (NCC)
The National Cadet Corps (NCC), an India government initiative is aimed at building a spirit of adventure, comradeship and leadership qualities in school and college going children. The NCC was formed in 1948 as per The National Cadet Corps Act in 1948 in view of the requirement to build a strong armed forces to protect our borders after the Kashmir war of 1948. NCC cadets are inculcated the values of discipline, service and responsibility. They engage in social service, adventure activities such as trekking in forests, mountaineering learn new skills such as flying an aircraft.  The minimum age for enrolment into junior division is 13 years and senior division is for those who have completed plus two. There is no compulsion to join the military service but NCC cadets get preference for selection to armed forces. 
The intention of NCC is laudable and they do create a core team of healthy, skillful and resourceful students with leadership and communication skills. However, not all students are capable of enrolling in NCC considering the rigorous training schedules and health requirements for the program. Not all schools and colleges have NCC units and therefore, the scope of the national program does not reach the entire student community. 
Debating Clubs, Arts Club, Drama Clubs, Environment Clubs
Many schools and colleges have clubs to promote talent – it could be debating clubs, drama clubs, arts club, nature clubs and so on. The intention is to create group activity and promote skills of students. Most often they are formed to groom students for inter-school or college competitions and the ratio of students active in such clubs may be small compared to the total number of students.
Camping and trekking
In School Annual Reports, principals highlight the annual leadership programmes organized for students which may involve camping, trekking activities in a hill station or forest under the guidance of teachers and resource people drawn from the armed forces or the Forest Department. It is no doubt a great experience and learning opportunity for children but again only about 20-25 students become part of the event due to infrastructural and logistic issues.
Leadership lectures
Many schools said they organize leadership lectures by eminent personalities drawn from business, policy making and industry to motivate students. They tell their story and also motivate the students to be pro-active and be innovative in doing things. Mostly it could be about what they should be doing once they complete the studies and think of choosing a career. 
The Leader in Me program
Schools are heavily oriented towards academics with team activities and life skills seen as extra-curricular activity. When teachers and parents emphasize the academics above other skills, their worry is about finishing the lessons on time and students getting adequately prepared for examinations. 
The Leader in Me program now implemented in about 5000 private and public schools in 60 nations is refreshingly different. It is based on Stephen R Covey’s best seller ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.  It considers each child as a leader and helps them to be proactive, take initiative, responsibility for whatever they do. In short, leadership element is built into all activities done at school-whether it is an academic project, cleaning the classroom, planting trees or organizing a sports or cultural event.
The idea germinated in the mind of Muriel Summers, Principal at AB Combs Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Faced with falling number of student enrolments and possible degrading from a ‘magnet’ school to a traditional school, Muriel Summers approached Stephen Covey after a presentation of his 7 Principles at an event in Washington DC in late 1999 with the idea of implementing them in schools. Till then it was believed that his 7 habits were effective only for teenagers, employees, managers and professionals.  Muriel was talking about implementing his concepts to children as young at 4 years.  (In USA magnet schools were set up to have offerings that would attract student beyond the district in which they were situated). 
Muriel’s success story was later chronicled by Stephen R Covey himself in another of his best-seller, The Leader in Me: How School and Parents Around the World are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time published by Simon & Schuster, London.
Every Child a leader
In Leader in Me program, every child is considered a leader. They are encouraged by the parents and teachers about being pro-active, importance of time management, getting along well with others, taking responsibility for their action and behavior and setting goals. A visitor to A B Combs School notes that what is remarkable about the school is that teachers are hardworking and empowered. Students are given leadership roles and many decisions are made by students and not teachers. 
Andrew Cherng, co-founder of Panda Express, a large Chinese restaurant chain serving Chinese food in USA, reported about an interaction with students of AB Comb Elementary School. He talked to students about the things that impressed him at the school- it was a lengthy list. But at the end of it, a student stood up and politely asked, “Mr Cherng,you have told us about the good things you are doing at our school, but what about the ‘deltas’? You know… the things we need to do better.” This kid, a third-grader was serious about making further improvements and showing remarkable leadership skills, notes Andrew Cherng. 
7 Habits in the Classroom
Take the initiative and not wait to be told to do things. Accept responsibility for your behavior and actions in the classroom.
2,Begin with the End in mind
Set your goals and targets in the beginning and start your work. It should be in conformity with school’ vision and values
3.Put first Things First
Prioritize important tasks and do them first. You must say ‘no’ to things you shouldn’t do.
4.Think Win-WinRespect for others wants and needs and create a win-win situation when conflicts arise 
5,First Seek to understand, then understood 
Listen and understand the feelings of others before you voice your ideas. Look into the eyes of others when you talk. 
Learn the strengths of others, involve them in group activities and collaborate to find solutions and solve problems 
7.Sharpen the Saw 
 Pay attention to your health, eat right and do physical exercise. Interact with and learn beyond school. Try out meaningful ways to help others.
Benefits of Leadership programs
By convention schools were expected to focus on academics with social and life skills to be learnt either at home or elsewhere.  In an ever-changing globalized world, where uncertainty rules with respect to business, jobs and political environment, intelligence quotient or academic scores may not help our students to survive. As Muriel Summers notes-“ If we are putting all our efforts on the almighty test score alone, I am quite afraid that we are going to create a generation of children who know how to do nothing but take a test well.”
All the leadership programs that are implemented in Indian schools such as NCC, trekking, adventure programs, club activities have a value in itself but do not involve all students and therefore limited in scope. Even sports and annual day functions are organized by teachers and leave out majority of the students from participation. Most children may have to go to finishing schools or attend special courses to improve communication skills, leadership skills and training to improve their motivational skills.
The Leader in Me program implemented right from Kindergarten level integrates leadership component in all activities done by children. It is implemented through posters, games, stories, toys, poetry, drama, assignments. When important events are held the students themselves line up and greet the visitors. They look up adult in the eyes while they greet them, writes a visitor at A B Combs School. 
According to Dr Chantel Ishola, who did a study of Leader in Me for his research work, the program helps develop lot of skills associated with the 7 habits-Politeness, Independence, helpfulness, responsibility, helpfulness, ambitiousness, self-control and respect. 
The best part of Leader in Me is that it does away with comparison and competition but lays emphasis on improving personal records by having a data notebook that keeps track of all their activities from the beginning of the year. 
To get best results, both parents and teachers should be involved in leadership activities as they should practice the principles learnt at school in all activities at home also. When there are too many activities to choose from, let the child decide what to but narrow down the options for them. They can be involved in small jobs, take part in decision making, finances and looking after siblings. The success of Leader in Me is that leadership is not seen as a position but as a way of living and leading one’s own life.

Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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