Winston Sakurai is the Upper School Principal at Hanalani School in Mililani, Hawaii, and our latest guest blogger in our Leanr[ED]Voices series. Learn more about Winston in the author section below, and check out Learn[ED]Voices for more guest blogs each month.
As student governments all across the land gear up for election season we will hear exuberant speeches from many young people who want to change the world…or at least the world they know. What awesome lessons they will they learn from leading others. I do not want that enthusiasm to ever leave their young hearts no matter where they go or what they become. Here are some simple words from the late Dr. Earl Reum, whom in my opinions is probably the most beloved and biggest advocate of student leadership, to remind us all of what it is to experience leadership.
I sincerely wish you will have the experience of thinking up a new idea, planning it, organizing it, and following it to completion and having it be magnificently successful. I also hope you’ll go through the same process and have something “bomb out.”
I wish you could know how it feels “to run” with all your heart and lose – horribly.
I wish that you could achieve some great good for mankind, but have nobody know about it except you.
I wish you could find something so worthwhile that you deem it worthy of investing your life.
I hope you become frustrated and challenged enough to begin to push back the very barriers of your own personal limitations.
I hope you make a stupid, unethical mistake and get caught red-handed and are big enough to say those magic words “I was wrong.”
I hope you give so much of yourself that some days you wonder if it is worth it all.
I wish for you a magnificent obsession that will give you a reason for living and purpose and direction in life.
I wish for you the worst kind of criticism for everything you do, because that makes you fight to achieve beyond what you normally would.
I wish for you the experience of leadership.
I’ve found that I learn more when I struggle, strain, and experience failure. Although it can feel embarrassing to admit, there have been so many times where I have failed. In particular, one that haunts me is a situation that arose when I served on the Hawaii State Board of Education. I’ll spare you the details, but there was a critical issue revolving around how schools were being led, and many board members were frustrated with the situation. In the midst of the crisis, I spoke with the media to share the BOE’s point of view in honest but maybe not so flattering words. This upset a lot of educators, and disrupted my relationship with people whom I greatly respected in the department of education. Rather than trying to fix the situation by building bridges, we decided it was time to force change upon a fragile and fractured system. Although well intended, I learned that is not always the best way to lead. I really should have taken a different approach to make things better and work to make improvements from the inside out. Of course, it’s possible the outcome could have been the same, but I’m positive that I could have handled it better.
Leadership is the journey that makes us stronger. The fact that it isn’t easy is actually to our benefit, and becomes the instrument by which we grow as leaders. I’ve learned that for all of the seminars, books, and articles I’ve explored there is nothing like experience to create my greatest gains as a leader. Late show host extraordinaire David Letterman is known for conducting brutal “post-mortems” on himself after an episode hasn’t gone well. This is why he is great, because instead of running from his shortcomings, he confronts them head on and gets better. While we don’t have to beat ourselves up when things go wrong, we should always strive to squeeze as much learning out of the situation as possible, and avoid the temptation to hide or ignore the lessons waiting to be learned from our failures.
So here are a few questions to ask when things don’t go as planned:
- How often do I reflect upon my struggles in leadership?
- What have I learned by from past failures?
- Which emotions were stirred up?
- What risks have I taken, or could have taken, or shouldn’t have taken?
- How have I become better?
- What would I change?
Leading isn’t easy. It is a continual battle for excellence. You will feel some growing pains. It will be lonely. In the end you will be glad you have taken on the challenge of leadership.
For more on Dr. Earl Reum visit earlreum.com
You’ve just read the latest post in our Learn[ED]Voices guest blog series. So what did you think? Is your school plastered with student government posters? We’ve all failed our way into some great learning, what questions do you ask yourself after a mistake?
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