There is no greater need in education today than developing
leaders of the society who can meet the complex and multifaceted
challenges of the 21st Century. The need is global
and covers all fields of endeavours and all levels of the
In countries where industry and economy need to be developed,
people with technical and financial backgrounds generally
come to the fore. In others where environment, health, privacy
and human rights were major issues, professionals with legal,
political and public health expertise are in high demand.
Most of all, in an age where all these technical and socio-economic
issues are intertwined, the need for people, with a mixture
of knowledge, talents, and skills from the various relevant
fields, becomes increasingly important.
Thus the first requirement for leadership is the ability
to integrate. This goes beyond the mere crossing
of disciplines, but also extends to the collaboration between
academic and industrial sectors, merging of research innovation
and education, working in teams of people with diverse ethnic,
philosophical, gender, cultural and national backgrounds.
This is not a new revelation or simply a fashionable cliché,
but was actually observed long time ago by a well-known educator,
J. Harland Cleveland, that “integration is what is higher
in higher education.”
Being a leader is also about making choices, a deliberate
and proactive act. Good leaders make wise and timely choices
while there are still options. Others delay and drag their
feet until they no longer have to choose because there is
only one option left to be adopted. That is not making a decision
since they are now forced into the only route available.
In making choices, one must guard against conventional thinking
or instinctive reaction. For example, a job with a good salary,
benefit, job security and working environment may not be the
best option even though, by conventional wisdom, it seems
ideal. Quite often one can make more of a difference by taking
a start-up job involving a noble cause and greater challenges.
In terms of interpersonal relationship, direct reaction
such as tit-for-tat has proven to be not the best course of
action since it is predictable and often perpetuates the same
kind of mindless feud and revenge between parties, as the
saying “an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind”
suggests. Instead, a thoughtful and measured response can
be more effective. Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage
and deliberateness to turn the other cheek, to go the extra
mile or two miles, or to repay rudeness with kindness, but
it has proven to work beautifully well.
Accountability and Stewardship
In a free society, the idea of accountability comes with
the privilege of making choices. It says that one is in charge
of making choices within an acceptable range and is competent
to make them wisely. He or she also needs to consider both
long-term and short-term consequences in making such choices.
Once made, one has to accept the responsibility that comes
The concept of accountability and stewardship is far from
being merely a politically correct reaction to the current
corporate scandals in some countries such as the U.S. In fact,
it was a favourite topic in Jesus’ parables in the Gospels
two thousand years ago. It basically says that we need to
be good stewards of the material, intellectual, emotional
and human resources that are entrusted to us, and that we
are always accountable to somebody, either a higher authority
(civil, military and/or spiritual) or people who work for
us or are served by us. Like loyalty, accountability
is also a two-way street.
For example, even when one owns a business all by himself
or herself, he or she is still accountable to the customers,
suppliers and/or employees without whose patronage or help
the business could not exist. We are also accountable to the
society from which we derive much support from the infrastructure.
In short, everyone in a society is always mutually accountable
to one another. An employee is accountable to his/her employer
to do a good job; the employer is accountable to the employees
by providing reasonable pay, job security, proper treatment,
working condition and advancement opportunity.
Leaders or Boss
In general, people tend to confuse being a leader with being
a boss, or regard a boss automatically being a leader. But
the two are not necessarily the same or equal. In fact we
have seen, more often than we would like, some bosses exercising
very poor leadership or no leadership at all. In contrast,
sometimes we are pleasantly surprised that a leadership vacuum
can be filled by a team member without the title of a boss.
Then what is the difference between the two? According to
the Fred Pryor Seminar organisation some years ago, a boss
drives people while a leader coaches and develops them. A
boss orders while a leader asks. Where a boss tends to depend
mainly on authority, a leader builds and uses goodwill. While
most bosses control people with fear, a leader inspires them
with enthusiasm. A boss reacts; a leader responds. A boss
takes credit while a leader gives it. When things go wrong,
a boss tends to fix the blame while a true leader fixes the
From this we can see that leadership has nothing to do with
intimidating or policing people. It does not involve tricky
moves such as keeping people ‘off balance’. It
has everything to do with envisioning the future, exemplifying
by one’s value and action, encouraging, empowering,
energising and evangelising people. (Notice all the
‘e’ beginnings? That means ‘do it with ease’!)
‘Everyday Evangelism’ and Orchestrating
In Selling The Dream, Kawasaki 2 borrowed the religious
term evangelism and used it in a secular context such as promoting
one’s product, organisation or ideas and making a difference.
In essence, everyday evangelism is spreading a cause or imparting
one’s dream. It transfers a vision into a cause and
gets people to share that cause. It yields dramatic, fundamental
and long-lasting cultural changes. Just like what occurred
on that fateful day recorded in the Acts of Apostles, Chapter
2, it generates selfless actions, sustains and grows. As the
saying goes, the rest is history.
An effective leader is one that can mobilise people to such
life-changing actions. It entails the steps of furrowing the
ground before sowing the seeds that must be followed by watering
and cultivation before finally harvesting. In that sense it
is also orchestrating change. Just like the conductor of an
orchestra, the leader works with various kinds of talents
and tools to put on a powerful and harmonious performance.
By nature people resist change. Depending on the situation
and people involved, a leader has the choice of making all
the changes in one big step or in a series of small steps
that are parts of the entire change. He or she should have
the good sense to choose each step to be a battle small enough
to win but large enough to matter.
Can Leadership Be Taught or Learned?
Just like creativity, there are all kinds of views or positions
on the issue whether leadership can be formally taught or
learned. The fact is that we can try to teach it; some get
it while others do not. We normally think of schools of business
and management being primary sources of leaders of the future.
Actually there are at least two other types that have also
produced effective leaders, at least in the American context.
One is the military and military academies. Carter, Eisenhower,
Marshall, Powell, et al. are but a few of the examples
wherein military training and career have prepared them for
civilian leadership as well. The other is mission-oriented
seminaries and institutions.
Perhaps a more effective way to impart leadership is by
deeds than by words. This is the essence of mentoring. In
religious circles, it is often referred to as discipling wherein someone less experienced would spend some time following
an exemplary person to see how he or she makes choices and
deals with people and challenges on a daily basis. Likewise
in the business or professional world, we are in need of leaders
who can serve as mentors for the next generation. Unfortunately,
many of our leaders are too busy to do that, or they themselves
have value problems and cannot serve as role models.
Inspiration and Character Building
In the final analysis, leadership needs to be inspired.
This was the reason why the word ‘cultivating’
was used in the title of this article—that leadership
development goes beyond mere training and teaching. It requires
a cultural change in a person not unlike the ‘born-again’
religious experience. It requires a different kind of thinking
and value system. Some time ago, our schools stopped teaching
values for whatever reasons. Up and down the corporate ladder,
we now reap the ills of that decision.
We need to inspire and rebuild character that starts with
integrity and perseverance. With that we can develop judgment
that is the ability to distinguish right from wrong; to set
priorities in using time, resource, and energy; to be wise
in creating, transferring and applying knowledge; to exercise
proper stewardship of our environment; and to care for the
sick, the poor and the disadvantaged.
Leadership in this new century, and for future centuries,
is indeed demanding. With vigorous cultivation, inspiration
and character building, we shall succeed in meeting that challenge.
1 For identification purpose
only. This article does not represent an official position
of the National Science Foundation or the United States Government.
The author is responsible for the content in its entirety.
2 Kawasaki, G. (1991). Selling
The Dream. New York: Harper Collins.