TEXT GILBERTO NETO
If you associate leadership with big positions and politicians, I have a story for you. Disclaimer: at some point I’m gonna state that leadership can learned, and by anyone. But first, let’s start with the story.
As a 14 year-old, I realised I had a dream. In this dream I saw me having friends from many nationalities. I could understand them and even laugh at their jokes. I could also watch movies without subtitles and even have a complete phone call in English. ( - A big deal for the first one in the family to speak a foreign language) That wasn’t the first time I had a dream, but it was the first time I fully believed in my capacity to live it.
Each week, I would rent 3 or 4 dvds and watch the movies over and over. English subtitles, copy down every unknown word or expression, figure them out, watch again, then watch again without subtitles. The dream was so emergent, that it felt more like cheating so it happens sooner. From there, it evolved to conference calls, getting a freelance work doing check-in for tourists at the harbor, and eventually became an English teacher at the age of 18.
When the opportunity to be an English teacher came, I found also a chance to share my passion and desire to connect with other people.
The big turning point came with the experience of seeing each student able to do new things, expressing themselves more clearly, trusting me with their vulnerability to support their growth. In a nutshell, my passion contributed to making them better.
Four years later, I get a well-paying job as an English teacher in a binational centre, am close to finishing my graduation in a public university and was on the verge of purchasing a car.
Stability. The thing my family told to strive for. The thing my society expected of me. I didn’t want it.
At least not yet. At least not at 22 years old, when I am still young and with so much capacity to achieve much more. At that point I had my “gringo friends”, I could watch movie without subtitles, I could talk in English over skype, but I had realised those skills could take me much further. Ever since I realised lives could be changed, I tried to learn more, so I could apply it intentionally: using English to understanding citizenship in different contexts, using very creative innovations which were only published in materials in English, be able to express our ideas more and more clearly so the world could learn from us… and with this, over the years, see my students apply these in their lives.
I couldn’t, at 22, reach my best case scenario. I couldn’t - Not without first challenging my ego, getting to know my limits, meet people with nothing in common with me, figuring out what I am capable of doing. I thought of doing the same thing for the next 50 years and it brought me butterflies in my stomach.
Conveniently enough, a friend of mine, who was volunteering in AIESEC in my hometown at the time, told me about the volunteering abroad, developing leadership in young people and how that whole thing “was so me”.
I visited the local AIESEC office then and started fumbling through the opportunities for working and volunteering abroad. At the time, just the thought of leaving my country alone was frightening enough,but I craved for it.
I took my tickets to Russia and left on the journey which would change my life forever. I traveled for 18 months working and volunteering in 5 countries, Finland being one of them. The plot twisted in me coming back to Finland for university and joining AIESEC as a member
Between the boy who really wanted to be able to speak English, and the current president of AIESEC in Finland, there were enough realisations to make me believe that leadership can be learned.
Long story short: Leadership is a set of qualities*. In AIESEC, we believe that by activating leadership in every young person we would be able to achieve our mission, which is Peace and Fulfillment of humankind’s potential. Leadership is a set of qualities, and it can be developed in anyone.
How does the learning of leadership qualities happen?
For example, in the Summer of 2016, I was elected to be head of operations, even though I had never done the operations myself previously. Working for that position was my outer journey.
As I did the position, I realised that my strengths were in leading people and project branding. This allowed me to focus the immediate strategies in building the commission and building good external representation for our brand. Additionally, I found out I am a confrontation avoider, and with that I could map out what triggers it and how to overcome this fear. This entire process of self-discovery was my inner journey .
Disclaimer: Both leadership journeys are non-negotiable. An inner journey without outer journey results in people alone in their thoughts. We may distract ourselves unveiling things we never unveiled before, which can be very positive, but we are not developing in the current journey.
An outer journey without inner journey may result in great development still, but once we are self-aware of the main outcomes of the journey and the new tools we acquired, we can achieve big by consciously and intentionally applying those tools.
The journeys together enable us to do great things intentionally and deliberately, not just intentionally. It enables us to acknowledge things like “although I am a conflict avoider, I now know I am able to confront when necessary”. “I am good at getting ideas across, so I can mentor the newcomers…” and this constant development of self and others makes individuals leaders.
Leadership stories I have witnessed
In the last four years in AIESEC, I met several people whose stories that can testify how leadership is the constant development of those qualities. Like the ones below:
I met Elisa, who went to Uganda to figure out her communication skills could be as great as to be able to educate young girls.
I met Antti, young man who didn’t seem so friendly or approachable, becomes president of AIESEC in Finland and leads a diverse network of people from over 20 nationalities to be one of the fastest growing entities in Europe.
I met Roosa, who during the winter went to Kyrgyzstan for volunteering, realised that she is the main responsible for creating the world she wants to live in and now fights to decrease Finland’s NEET index.
I met homossexual leaders, working in counties they’d go to jail for their sexual orientation.
I met many female leaders in countries they are not represented in politics, fiercely striving for engage young people as well as for gender equality.
Among many other young people who dared to lead themselves and others.
I am at the moment in the last months of my term as president of AIESEC in Finland, and with the position come important responsibilities: role-modeling our values, representing our entity in the global plenary and governance. However, in the end of the day, leadership in its core is in the ongoing cycle of owning challenges, learning from them, then starting a new journey with better tools.
As I strive to deliver an extraordinary end of term, I’m also preparing to live my next challenge starting the very day after.
How about you? How will you dare to lead?
PS: If you are looking for a chance you won’t find at school to unleash your potential and develop leadership qualities, check aiesec.org for our opportunities.