Monday, May 25, 2009

[Leadership] Inspiring the Next Generation

I have long been interested in the concept of "leadership". Leadership is such an ambiguous term, and while usually understood in the mind, leadership is seldom understood in practice. I am without exception.

I am Christian and go to CCF regularly. There I heard one of my favorite definitions of leadership: leadership is following Jesus and inspiring others to do the same (Clayton, 2008). This simple definition is basically defining leadership as "leading by example" in the Christian context. By submitting to a common vision, you inspire others to do the same. I will share a bit about my experience with inspirational leadership - starting with a "not-so-good" example, followed by a "work-in-progress" example. I invite you (readers) to share your own stories.

I have recently joined the Iron Dragons (U of T Engineering Dragonboat Team). Going into the season, I was really hyped up and still am very excited. I love the team more than I can express in words. It's been 3 summers since I was last on the team (due to my internship in Seattle). Coming back in my final year, I am now more senior and feel I can take a leadership role (not management per se, but being a good example - i.e. attendance, hard work, dedication, enthusiam ...). In the midst of all this has been some personal issues involving a mix of priorities (work, school, and family). As a result, I have been missing a riduculous number of practices and will continue to miss them due to these unexpected priorities that have arisen. I love the team very much and want to help bring the team together. However, given my current situation, I cannot be that "good example" that I wanted to be. Nevertheless, I still plan to attend the races, practices (when I can), and car washes to support the team as best as possible. Also, in terms of the team direction, I only worry because I love the team so much :) But in terms of actual need, I believe ID is in good hands, managed well, and has a strong team.

A little "better" example is my leadership in personal fitness around my personal circle of influence. During my internship in Seattle, my active lifestyle help inspire others to get active and remain active (including working out with a good friend and helping friends complete a several running events). Returning from Seattle, I continued this lifestyle and continued to "preach" active living through my actions. My personal circle included CCF, where I helped motivate people to run, workout, and achieve other goals. More recently, I have been spending more time at home and helping around the house. As I have been developing as a leader and helping others reach their personal best, I began to also develop a strong desire to apply my developing leadership skills to those who matter to me most: my family. We often don't think of applying our skills to our family. Often, we take them for granted.

I have been moving in (Lee, 2005) with my focus: from coworkers, to friends, to family. The "vision" for CCF in 2005-2006 was "Move in, Move out". My inward focus is to focus on those that matter to me most. It is not to say that I ignore those in my outer circles. However, I need to make sure that I do not neglect my inner circle. Moving in / out is about a balance of focus. A fitness example is working out the core. You cannot neglect this. However, doesn't mean you don't do other exercises or activities; but sometimes we need to get back to the basics: core workouts, squats, deadlifts, pullups, pushups, and eating properly. Returning to the basics helps us refine our skills in other areas. For me, returning to the basics is similar to my focus on my family.

I call this type of focus Redeeming the Time. This is taken from the Christian Bible, which talks about redeeming the time (Col 4:5, NKJV). For me, this phrase means to make the most of your time and not wasting time because time is so precious.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

[Dragonboat] The Inner Metronome

I grew up as a classically trained musician. I have played in quartets and orchestras as a violinist / violist. One of the most important things in music is Time. We need to be on the right beat. We need to feel the rhythm.

In a quartet, everyone needs to be one - breathing together, playing together, knowing each other's parts and anticipating the music. (Of course, we must train so that we are also in tune and musical - but that's for another entry).

In dragonboat terminology, we call this: staying in sync.

The Importance of Sync

This doesn't even need an explanation. "Sync" refers to a team's ability to paddle together. In a boat with 20 paddlers, it is important that paddles enter / exit the water together, that paddlers move according to a common rhythm, following the inner metronome.

Problem Definition: Orchestra

In an orchestra, there are various musicians and one conductor. The conduct sets the direction for the beat, the musicality, and acts as the cohesive force between the different musicians. In sections such as the violas (*cough), there are 8-12 violists. Towards the back, we tend to follow those in front of us. At times we are lazy and don't follow the true rhythm and just "copy" those in front of us. What ends up happening is that everyone is slightly off - time delay, reaction speed, etc. This leads to a problem commonly known in dragonboat terms as: caterpillar. Like a caterpillar, the paddles move one by one, starting from the front pair, and moving to the back.

The solution to this in an orchestra is simple: "everyone, follow the conductor!" However, dragonboating doesn't have a "conductor" and hence everyone must be following the same metronome inside of their body. String quartets provide a good analogy to learn about "sync" as quartets also don't have conductors.

Solution Approach: Learning from the Quartet

When I was in "band camp", I played with a few other musicians in a string quartet (2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello).  Everyone had their own parts and we had to be aware of everyone else's parts. We had to be tight. We needed to be able to anticipate each other's movements, breathings, and playing. There needs to be synergy

One thing we tried was to play by facing away from each other. (Usually, we would all face each other, give each other eye cues, etc.) By facing away, we were essentially playing "blindfolded". Like Daredevil, by being "blind", our other sensed were sharpened. We started listening to each other more acutely, and more importantly, developed a greater sensitivity to the inner metronome. Not the inner metronome of each person, but of the quartet and of the piece we were playing.

I suggested this analogy to one of our dragonboat coaches (which he tried next week). It was pretty cool to see it applied for the first time (i.e. paddling together with our eyes closed). I believe that these drills can be refined to sharpen various sensory perceptions. And in developing a championship team, we will be both strong and sensitive (sensitive to the inner metronome and moving as one).

Concluding Thoughts

This is one of many possible analogies from music. There are other analogies from various disciplines of study that we can learn from. For example, my studies and my personal fitness are very connected. The key takeaways in paddling with closed eyes are:
- an increased awareness of our other sensory perceptions and our environment
- a developed dependence on the boat's inner rhythm, finding that rhythm, and staying in sync with it.
Of course, we paddle with our eyes open. So when race day comes, we'll be dragonboat ninjas!