Medium / A Take on Leadership Styles
I published a new post on Medium. If you’re unfortunate enough to have Medium blocked for you in Malaysia (Hooray for net neutrality!), this is for you.
The 1 Leadership Style to Lead All Other Leadership Styles.
An open letter to a younger generation of college leaders.
Hey guys and gals, it’s me, your favorite old fossil. It’s that time of the year again when the Purdue University Malaysian Students Association (PUMSA) looks for fresh leadership; Hard to believe that it’s now 3 years since I was in your shoes, pondering the million-dollar-question: Do I run for President?
Unlike for Donald Trump, the answer didn’t come to me easily. (I kid; He probably made a cost-benefit analysis before he did. Or perhaps he didn’t. I digress.)
I won’t have time for it.
This is probably the biggest hurdle for a college student. I get it, you have 21 credit hours to take next semester. You want to participate in other organizations. You have a significant other now (thanks to that great stage performance on Malaysian Night). You just want more sleep.
That’s all understandable, it really is. Your time is yours to spend; I cannot tell you how you should spend it. I only ask that you give it some extra thought: Will you really, absolutely not have any spare time to volunteer to this cause? Would the lessons and experiences gained be worth sacrificing a little time here and there on other things? By the way, it is certainly possible to explore other organizations while being committed to one. It’s even possible to take leadership positions in multiple organizations in a semester (if you’re suicidal like myself).
This organization doesn’t need me.
Do you truly believe that? Your mentors and leaders would disagree. I disagree (speaking on PUMSA; I’ve seen the work you’ve done in the past year, and it’s been absolutely stellar and creative).
Really. If not you, then whom? If you are not willing to take on the burden of leadership, are you willing to trust that someone else will?
PUMSA was founded in 1970. It was founded long before you or I braved the cornfields surrounding Purdue, and it will continue to persist long after we graduate, serving its mission: Providing a home away from home for Malaysians, and a stage for them to strive for success on campus and beyond. There was a time when PUMSA had no office, had no Malaysian Night, had no presence in campus discourse. It’s come this far thanks to students like you, and it will need your help to go even further.
I am not a leader.
Let me tell you a story.
Once, I somehow found myself (#storyofmylife) in the unenviable mess of leading Malaysian Night. At the time, there was a student named Kenneth Tan on campus. Kenneth is and was one of the greatest leaders of people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet; He could give great speeches that would fire up, he had a deep belief in the cause (PUMSA), he had talent and dedication, and most of all, he is/was extremely humble, relatable, and friendly. He was President of PUMSA in 2012; if you need additional reinforcement of his ability, he won Purdue’s International Student of the Year Award in 2014.
Filling in Kenneth’s gigantic shoes in 2013 was a very different person: Jian Yao Ang. Let me tell you about the singular Jian Yao: He is/was a more subdued (compared to the firework that is Kenneth) leader, preferring to dispose of all flair and fluff in his speeches in favor of getting straight to the point. Kenneth preferred to lead front and center, greeting every person at every event; Jian Yao led from the shadows (he does like Batman), making sure everything ran smoothly. He had great vision, and he never hesitated to shield his team from unfair criticism.
As I led Malaysian Night during Jian Yao’s tenure, I was under pressure to be more like Kenneth; lead from the front, give fiery speeches, inspire the masses. Jian Yao pulled me aside and gave me one of the most important lessons in leadership:
There is no such thing as a ‘best’ leadership style.
True, there are a set of traits that we expect every great leader to possess: Vision, ambition, dedication, integrity, humility, yadayadayada. We should all strive for these traits and more. However, the truth is, we also possess different strengths and weaknesses as individuals. Instead of attempting to fit into a predefined mold, an effective leader leverages his or her own strengths and talents to find a unique leadership style.
You won’t find your leadership style today or tomorrow (I’m still not sure what mine is, exactly, either), but as long as you believe in yourself and your cause, others will believe in you, too.
TL;DR: If Najib and Trump can lead, so can you!
All photos courtesy of the Purdue University Malaysian Students Association.
I chose to run and was elected PUMSA President, 2014. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
Kenneth Tan and Jian Yao Ang were and still are great mentors and friends to me. I owe them a visit.