Saturday, October 02, 2010

Therefore I Lead...

The thing about being a freelancer (and not just a business reporter) is that you never know what's coming up tomorrow. A variety of jobs are thrown at you from all angles (Malaysia, as I've found, being chronically short of writers).

All the time I was out of journalism, or only into it for a tiny specialist section of the market, I missed out on these interactions.

Today I met a bunch of kids who were what I could only describe as "politically engaged". If you think there's nothing special about that, it's only cos you don't know Malaysian kids.

They were polite, charming, sincere and very, very smart. All had ideas about what changes needed to be made for a better tomorrow.

What was surprising was that some of these kids were actually from the local school system. Now I can understand smart, aware kids from international schools, where they are developed in different ways and judged based on a different set of criteria. In an international school dissent and contradiction are welcomed. The kids are thought to think for themselves, to judge, to evaluate.

But firstly, not many parents can afford these schools (though some do hock everything from their houses to their wives to pay the school fees) and even if they could, there aren't that many in Malaysia to begin with.

The local school system, however, is designed to create the mindless mob. You swallow a huge amount of information rote-style, trot it out mechanically when asked, hoping you can remember the exact phrasing of the definition on page 24 of your textbooks. Alter the question just a little and you're lost. And since you have imbibed the words and not the principles, you wouldn't be able to apply the information to different situations.

Why do you think innovation is something we have to pay either the foreigners or the Malaysians who have been abroad, to do?

In fact, when I interviewed this German guy who had been invited to turn around a Malaysian company, he told me the sheeplike mentality of the Malaysians (yes sir, no sir, three bags full) was what caused him the most problems. If he said, OK, let's talk about the problems with this product, everyone looked at everyone else, shuffled their feet, and then eyed the ground, hoping nobody would call on them. They were afraid to offer an opinion, afraid to say anything that could be construed as criticism, afraid of the penalties of speaking up.

Which is why it was doubly interesting to meet these products of the system he had spoken about, but oh my, what different products. These kids thought about things, questioned the status quo, were not taken in by appearances or PR surfaces - said, oh for God's sakes, walk your talk instead of giving us more fluff, and most importantly - you become a leader to serve, not to accummulate money or power.

Everyone has the potential and even a street sweeper can be turned into a leader provided they have a desire to serve. Without it, even the best credentials in the world won't make you one. No, you'll be some corrupt lackey engaged in securing your fiefdom, but not a leader.

Never a leader.


So now I've called Theresa and am busy trying to hammer out said article. I'm supposed to be somewhere for dinner and most likely I'll be late because she wants to see it today.

Sometimes I don't mind the hard work and tight deadlines.

Sometimes I love my job.

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