Leadership: Ignite the Fire
Are you ready to hold the torch to light the path ahead? I am putting this question to you. Now I want to challenge you. Why not be the torch yourself? You have the fire inside you, waiting to be ignited.
Fire is a most potent force. In the words of Nobel Laureate Tagore, fire can be the little lamp that stood up to the mighty setting sun's arrogant declaration "Who is going to light the world when I am gone" and humbly said, "Lord, give me a chance and I will do my best."
Fire can be the light of the lantern that Benjamin Franklin used to keep on in his patio throughout the night. When asked why was he wasting the fuel, he replied that the light was not for him but to light the path of the passersby.
Fire is the spark that ignites an engine. Fire is the force to launch a spaceship. Fire represents joyous celebrations. Yes, fire cooks our food, provides warmth, dispels darkness. And yet, fire uncontrolled can be terribly destructive.
Leadership, too, is a potent force, just like fire. You have the fire within you. You are the fire. Let me talk about priorities in Rotary leadership.
In the early morning of the day I took over as RI president, I received a fax at my condo that read: "Respected Dad, Mom, The clock starts now. Only 365 days to homecoming. Congratulations from a proud first family. Your children at home." Usha and I were overwhelmed receiving this message and realized the valuable role of family in my leadership success. More important, I realized then that my ultimate destination was not the presidency of Rotary International, but my homecoming after completing my job. My friends, I urge you, the first support you need is from your family. Make it a part of your joy and challenge. It will enhance your strength. Keep time for your family.
There is a story about a young man charged with theft, robbery, drug abuse, and other criminal acts, appearing before a judge. The judge, looking at the man, said, "Are you not the son of the judge who wrote the famous book on children's trust and rights? And if you are, are you not ashamed of yourself to be a criminal?" The young man replied, "Yes, sir, I am his son. I remember so distinctly, during those days of my childhood, whenever I wanted to have some time with Dad, he turned me away saying he was too busy writing his book on children's trust and rights. So here I am, as I have grown up, not knowing the trust or rights of a child. But, Mr. Judge, tell me who is guilty I or my father?" The first lesson in leadership is: Be an example of what you say. Make your life your message, live your values, walk your talk. Be a role model for your children, a hero for your people, Rotary's face in the community.
When Rotarians desirous of becoming district governors approach me for my advice and good wishes, I compliment them for their willingness to take up bigger responsibilities in Rotary. At the same time, I give them a caveat in the form of a hope that they would have the extraordinary ability to continue devoting time for the family and caring for the business, profession, or other vocational activities while fulfilling their Rotary duties. I tell them that service in Rotary would enrich life but to always remember family as priority No. 1 and vocation as priority No. 2.
It is true that as district governor you will be required to put in a substantial part of your time this year. Do find a balance. Rotary should be one of your priorities, but do not start thinking of Rotary as your career. I feel that Rotary has the greatest danger from "no time" Rotarians and "full time" Rotarians.
Leadership next calls on your vocational integrity and excellence.
You always have a choice of taking the path of right or wrong. The right way is to give, to share, to love. The wrong way is to grab, to exploit, to envy. You must always keep in mind that the choice you make, makes you. Thus, through the dignity of vocation and transparency of integrity, you seek purpose, satisfaction, and excellence in your vocation. People ask, is leadership an inborn quality or can it be acquired? I do not have the answer. But I know one thing: Leadership is a set of principles dynamism, courage, creativity, and integrity that flow from within. In different degrees these ingredients are embedded in us, but we need to locate them, unlock them. And then through introspection and nurturing, through dedicated and disciplined efforts, these seeds from within would sprout in the form of leadership: touching, caring, guiding, leading by example.
Gandhi was a timid young man. Abraham Lincoln was an ordinary lawyer. Mother Teresa was a simple nun. Their leadership burst into flame when they had a cause confronting them. They did not duck they located the dormant power within, touched it with a spark, set the goal, and achieved the mission. Having found his inner strength, a good leader does not compete with others but competes with himself. It is this inner strength that made Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, observe: "It is not the mountain that we conquer. We conquer ourselves."
One year's governorship is a life-changing opportunity. Opportunity often knocks very softly, so please pay attention. Leadership will not end with your year; leadership of your own life will continue. Leaders become lifelong learners, and you have accepted the process in which you, as a student, must consider:
Willingness to get out of your comfort zone
Honest self-assessment of successes and failures
Aggressively seeking information and ideas
Becoming a world-class listener
Sincere desire to view life with an open mind
Now, permit me to share briefly some experiences I have encountered that have been lessons to me and may not be found in leadership textbooks:
Flexibility. I asked you to be strong, but the great ancient philosopher Lao Tzu adds a new dimension. He says (paraphrasing): I choose to be strong by being soft and flexible rather than inflexible, brittle and hard. Yes, friends, all things, including grass and trees, are soft and pliable in life, dry and brittle in death. The hard and stiff will be broken; the soft and supple will prevail.
Firmness. Flexibility yes, but there must be no compromise with values you cherish, the principles you live by, the ideals of the organization you have adopted. Have the courage to stand up and speak against evil. If you don't, you will only be seen collaborating with it. Integrity, honesty, dignity, sincerity are not redefined. Please remember valuable is valuable, but values are invaluable.
Humor. Sense of humor is part of leadership qualities. Humor is spice in human relationship. Handled correctly, humor is like grace and shines on everybody. Humor connects people. Humor is not just jokes, and if so, the jokes have to be on oneself. A friend of mine has great sense of humor. I once asked him why he, an only child, did not have any siblings. Ready wit, he answered that he asked the same question to his parents and got their immediate response: "We just did not feel it necessary to repeat a bad joke."
Take time. The world today is speed obsessed. In elevators, we smack the Door Close button in the hope of saving some seconds. The latest I have heard is that people with advanced cases of "hurry sickness" punch in "88" seconds on the microwave instead of "90" because it is faster to tap the same digit twice. Please do not get me wrong. I am not asking you to slow down in your activities, but I am surely asking you to slow down and take time for your human interactions.
Please find space and time to communicate, to build empathy. Whenever possible, write personal letters or notes of greetings, thanks, appreciation, sympathy, affection even if it is through the Internet. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, these tools are still very relevant for harnessing harmony and mending misunderstandings. Just imagine the effect to an employee in a large corporation who receives a letter written by the chairman that begins, "Dear Number 2040, we have a personal interest in you."
You can be wrong. From childhood it is ingrained in our minds not to admit a mistake and never to say, "I am sorry." On the other hand, to admit and apologize for a wrong or pain caused to another, even inadvertently, helps in rising in one's own and the other person's esteem.
A small incident recently further convinced me of this. After checking-in at the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, I was trying to locate the business-class lounge. I went to the receptionist with my query, and she started processing my card. There was one person ahead of me who got angry and told me so, obviously thinking I had jumped the line. In the same tone, I defended myself and told him that the girl on her own took my card. Thirty minutes later, reflecting on my own behavior, I realized that if I were in his position, I would have felt the same way as he did. I gathered courage and stepped up to him and said, "I apologize for my behavior." He was stunned and his spontaneous reaction was he hugged me! He had not only forgiven me, he had made me feel good. He looked at my lapel pin and asked, "What is it?" I replied, "It is a Rotary pin," and he exclaimed, "Oh! You are a member of a Rotary club." I realized that my small act had enhanced Rotary's image to the other and my own image to me.
Ego buster. You are going to be very successful, but I must warn you of a vicious circle. Success leads to arrogance and arrogance leads to failure, and where the failure will take you, I don't know it may not necessarily be success. The cycle has to be interrupted at the very first stage, and it can only be done by a good dose of sincere humility. It is this virtue that will touch you with genuine greatness. It is this quality that will attract people to you and respect you.
When great Italian conductor Toscanini's orchestra burst into unending applause after it played a Beethoven symphony, Toscanini had to come on the stage again and declare, "It is not me, it is Beethoven." Height of humility. Yes, many of us come from humble origins, and invariably success, power, position, or money tend to get in our head. In the midst of all the wealth and fame that life may gift us, our feet must remain firmly grounded.
Change. You have heard President-elect Kalyan emphasizing change, the change that you must bring about, change that would bring the progress. We all resist change and we say, "This is what has always been done, and the same I will continue to do." Change is essential to our evolution as an individual, as an institution. It is necessary for our survival. Ordinary leaders fight it; visionary leaders delight in it. Ordinary leaders imitate; visionary leaders innovate. Change is the factor that offers new opportunity, new horizon, new lead to progress.
What I have said, my friends, is my experience of the attributes of a leader, attributes that touch humanity, that lift the leader to new heights. These attributes have to come from within, where the dormant fire waits to be lit.
There is a town near my city that is largely inhabited by Muslims. Recently, after hearing rumors of desecration of the Holy Quran in the United States, an angry mob ransacked and almost destroyed the local church. A Muslim businessman, Amjad, could not stand this inhumanity. After sending the priest of the church in his car to safety, he began rebuilding the church. In a short time, he brought the priest and the community of minority Christians together for Mass at the repaired church. This businessman did so, even at danger to his own life, because he had courage, goodwill, harmony, and leadership at his heart.
Ladies and gentlemen, Amjad is a colleague of yours sitting amidst you today, and I recognize the governor-elect of District 3090, Amjad Ali Khan.
Like Amjad, you must have had your encounters, your experiences, your challenging moments that made you a true Rotarian rather than being a Rotary club member. You individually may not be able to embrace humanity as a whole or to determine the course of history. But each of you can, through purity and sincerity of thoughts and actions, embrace as many members of the human family as possible and bring about the change. In these hugs, embraces, actions, you will write the history of our Rotary's just-starting new decade. Just as one lamp can light many lamps, please carry your spark to light the inner lamps of club leaders and Rotarians of your district with the message "What you do for yourself will get lost with you; what you do for others will endure beyond you."
In the words of George Bernard Shaw: "Life is no `brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
So my friends, are you ready to be a splendid torch to burn as brightly as possible, not just for your year but to pass on the fire to the generations of Rotary to come? Are you awakened? Are you inspired ready to ignite the fire, ready to explore and achieve, ready not just for the launch but to last? Remember, your ultimate destination is to return home, completing your year, with Neil Armstrong's words as he stepped onto the moon echoing in the ears: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Do these words say something to you? Your one, single year can be a leap for our institution, our Rotary.
Go for it. Ignite the fire within you.
Source: Rotary International / Courtesy : eFlash_Rotary
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