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My Leadership, The Truth

H. Yoon - LDR 2010

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Hi, hello. Thanks you all for coming. Wow, this is really cool, it's a full house tonight. Um, you guys are here to hear me talk I guess, like my life and stuff. Umm... You don't have to like my story or anything but let me tell you something. This is my story. Whether you like it or not, it's gonna stay that way and stay that way for forever. My story is what brought me here today, what made me present here and now to talk about that exact same story. So this is just all me. What I give to you tonight, it's all me.

I'm just sayin'.

So who am I?

If there is one thing you should know about me first, know this: I hate introductions. I mean, who doesn't? But really, I hate introductions because I hate regretting about the cool things that I didn't mention during my introduction. I mean, I wanna give you the full details about how awesome I am in every way possible, but I always end up missing a few bullet points.

As you can tell, I consider myself as a cool person. At least most of the time, if not always. I am half North and half South Korean, I speak five languages, I am a gray-scale colorblind yet I work for stage lighting. I have two adorable furry kids, I do projects with some of the best researchers in the field, and I can play many many instruments. And this is just a tiny part of who I am.

I could go on and on and on and just be arrogant the whole time. You are okay to say that I am so full of myself. Pretentious, egoistic, haughty, you name it, but the thing is that I am surrounded by the people who somehow always find me cool. Whether I make a mistake or fail at something, there will be someone or some people who will bring my ego back by telling me those great things I have going on in my life. Trust me, I feel more than grateful and humbled to have such people around me, but man is it poisonous at times. Being cool is fine, having people who knows that you are cool is even better, but what this can do to you is not always so cool.

There has been innumerable times that I remember feeling motivated and inspired by the way people reminding me of how crazily impressive person I am. I don't think I could have made till where I am right now, standing at the considerably successful position as an undergrad, without their encouraging words and supportive actions toward me. I will be honest though that after realizing people's positive point of view about me, I have tried and am still trying to pursue things that might make others view me as even cooler. Things were often too easy for me whether it be making good impressions on people or appearing as a leader or even actually being one in the places I have been.

As easy as becoming a leader got, I naturally also became to think not only earning a title in a leadership position is a piece of cake, but also practicing a successful one was. I was frequently representing my project group and my class without hardly trying, but I didn't know what I was doing. No, that's not right. I never realized that I don't know anything about what does it mean to be a leader, what does it mean to lead others.

I must say that this ignorance was one of my biggest weaknesses I had. But do you see how I said this in a past tense? Experiences I've had as this 'blind' leader definitely put me through the phases and phases of fiascos. However, were they worth it? Yes, absolutely. Lack of knowledge was what eventually lightened up my desire to learn about leadership to become a better leader than I was before. This entire journey to 'successful' leadership has been an important chapter in my life, the one full with reflection, learning, and growth.

Now you may partially understand what I meant in the beginning by saying, 'This is my story.' Let me tell you again: this story is what led me here and what made who I am today.

What kind of messed up leader was I before? Let me see... From where do I even begin?

Like I already mentioned, I knew nothing about effectively leading people. Yet, that didn't stop me from thinking that I am indeed an effective leader regardless of my lack of knowledge. I was one of those kids who are just confident all the time about their sourceless abilities and just annoy everybody else.

When I try to remember, there are number of memories of my classmates irritated by the way I served my leadership role. For some, I can even recall what exactly they said to me, like, "What makes you think you are the best to do this?" or "You think you can do anything because you are the leader?" I still memorize this because it hurt. But I managed to ignore it anyway because I thought, 'What do they know? I am the leader.'

Looking back now, there are certain things I badly wish that I could've done better. What I used to firmly believe to be true no longer holds its' power.

Misunderstanding 1. What is even Leadership Philosophy?

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It never came across to me that there might be some ways that I can lead better simply because I thought I was the best at all times. You could say that I was young, and was just innocent and foolish. Even so, I wish I would have taken some time to reflect on why am I getting some mean comments from my friends about the way I lead? This can't not make me sad because I clearly remember having hard time making friends when I was young and it was most likely due to the way I behaved around them. I was always alone and constantly looking for people to hang out, but what a silly me still thought I 'own' everyone with my power as a leader.

Misunderstanding 2. The leader always have to be noticeable.

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I used to think the leader is all about being bold and easily seen from people. You have no idea how much 'extra' I was because of this ingrained idea I had in my mind. I was doing everything that would make me noticeable from people, and not always in appreciative ways. I was shouting at people, I wanted to voice my opinion more than anybody else, and I was running around the corridor beating (for fun) boys up thinking I am the most influential and powerful kid around. You can imagine how this must have affected me not really having friends.

Misunderstanding 3. I have a lot of experiences so I know.

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As I was easily taking leadership positions ever since I was in kindergarten, I had this very cocky mindset that the number of experiences I had as a leader equals the amount of leadership knowledge and skills I have. Not true at all. It was only recently that I realized that gaining of knowledge and acquiring of skills take place only when you are actively reflecting on your past performances, which is what I was never doing. I was expecting my overall expertise in leadership to be better every time I serve a leader role when I was not making any effort to learn and grow. This means that I never truly noticed what mistakes I was making and how I was negatively impacting the people around me.

(Rather recent) Misunderstanding 4. Leadership is all about others.

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Not long after I started my journey to better my leadership, I terribly realized how wrong I was before and suddenly became a quite an opposite leader; now all I cared about was others. I was making sacrifices after sacrifices as a leader to please others, always working extra to ensure that everybody is happy. Does that sound good? Not really. Now I was this leader whose focus was others and others only. I did not really take time to think about how I feel about doing certain things to make others content, even if it means doing something that is against my values. Yes, values. What I needed the most before getting into 'helping' others as a leader was thorough understanding of who I am and what I consider important in my life. Of course, leadership is about others, about positively impacting them. However, don't forget that leadership is also about me. It is only after you know where you are coming from that you see the aligning line that you could follow to influence others as a leader.

So if leadership is also about me (about who I am), what part of me matters?

What I didn't realize until very recently was the fact that I am a person with values. I mean, we all go that phase where we question what's important in our lives. However, what we don't go through surprisingly and unfortunately as all is consciously applying those values in our everyday actions.

My core values are the foundations of who I am. What I consider meaningful in my life guides me think and make decisions, which in return adds up and compose who and where I am today.

As I started my journey to better myself with leadership, the very first practice was to understand what those values are. When I started this practice, I was amazed by the values that I didn't even think of having. Over time, there has been some editing and modifications to the my core values, but never changed fundamentally. If my list of core values can be described as more of objective and formal vocabularies, the list I have now is something I can fully relate myself not only as a leader, but also as a unique individual.

Value 1. Individualization that leads to Inclusion

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Everyone is different, and everyone has different ways he/she can be led most effectively. That being said, it is important for leaders to recognize the uniqueness of each individual and practice the leadership that can best respect and appreciate those differences between people. As a leader, I pay attention to the individual details and incorporate those information as a way to show my care and regards for those who I lead. Practicing individualization usually starts from very small action, such as writing personalized emails. Although the action may be small, there is considerable consequence that follows after. People I lead notices your effort to pick out their distinct characteristics and treat them in specialized ways.

Practicing individualization has its' ultimate connection to achieving diversity. Even though each person is different, together they can create a harmony if they are equally included in the group. I always think that the key to successful diversity is by how people are treated inclusively, not by how people are. While taking actions of respect and appreciation for individual differences as leader, people are influenced to value who they actually are and collectively create the environment where those differences are welcomed and celebrated.

Value 2. Balance between Intention and Passion

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Every action the leader takes must be based on the purpose. For whatever he/she does, the leader should understand why certain decision was made and where does that decision take him to. Without having the initiatives, without having those carefully made directions, leader will get lost and so will those who follow.

To find the appropriate intention that will bring about the best outcome, the purpose must be based on the leader's passion. I believe that one of the most strategic plans come out when the goal is to accomplish what strongly drives the person.

Value 3. Empowerment through Authentic Communication

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The word 'empowerment' has a very strong impact on me for several different reasons. The most relevant reason among those is because I have been constantly empowered by many many people, sometimes without to even realizing.

When I first the the word 'empowerment', I thought it was synonymous to 'inspiration' or 'motivation'. Only after I started practicing empowerment myself, I was able to comprehend the differences between those three. While inspiring is process is stimulating someone mentally to do something, motivating is a process of giving a reason to do that. So you can say that motivating can have stronger impact. However, empowering can be literally understood as giving a power. If there was a leader who was able to inspire and motivate someone to think about achieving a goal, the leader who empower will enable him/her to make that goal come true.

Out of many methods to empower people, I believe authentic communication tops everything else. To really understand what is authentic communication, you first need to understand what is the meaning of being 'authentic'. I mean, how is it different from being 'honest'? Unlike just being honest, being authentic has the power in its' nature of having good intention. As many people may already have experienced at least once in their lives, sometimes being honest is not the best strategy as it can be to deliberately hurt someone. However, being sincere to draw a positive result can has its' impact to move people's heart. In the communication full of genuine words, I believe the communicator's authenticity will always be understood at some point.

Value 4. Accomplishment and its' Celebration

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Making success important. However, what's more important to me is to be able to appreciate that success and enjoy that great sensation. In fact, this value has been added to my list only recently since I wanted to really do better in celebrating my own achievements and not stop being so hard on myself every time. Doing great is doing great and there should be no 'but...' at the end of the sentence. Although some people may disagree, I believe that allowing myself to feel good about what I have done well is a strength not a pompous act. I can say this confidently as I have experiences where I found myself stronger and improved after I took time to compliment myself on my good performance.

Sometimes I notice this growing loneliness as I accomplish more in life. Making success is without a doubt satisfying, but too often that not I feel worn out and torn down inside and out through the process. So why should I be so mean to myself for something I earnestly worked on? That being said, I'm going to continuously pay extra care to give myself enough room to breathe because that's the only way I will survive.

Value 5. Flexibility for Reflective Learning

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Learning can take place in numerous forms and ways. I am a huge fan of reflective learning since it is only when I look back and ponder upon my words and actions that I find myself grow. Through such exercise, I can draw a comparison between who I was before and who I am now. Although I greatly appreciate and actively intake the lessons that outside world bring me, ultimately my develop as a better person when I digest them to make the lessons my own.

There may be countless lessons to learn though a single experience, yet what would be the point if the leader is unwilling to accept those lessons? At times, things our experiences teach us can require us to go through the changes that we are not unprepared for. However, I believe that one of the most significant qualities to have not only as a successful leader, but also as a person of success, is to be flexible to those uncertainties that randomly occur in our lives.

But that's not it. Now that I know myself a little better, I needed to apply these values to the leadership lessons I gained from Leadership Fundamentals. Because only then, I will own my leadership.

Lesson 1. Leadership is an effort.

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Over the past decades, there have been many leadership theories developed in an attempt to better predict the individuals with strong leadership. Trait theory has been one of the foundational idea that people developed in early times, which states that there are certain characteristics that is associated with leadership, such as extraversion. Simply said, trait theory suggests that leader is born, not made. And you know what I think? I think it's nonsense. However, surprising amount of people do believe that some type of leadership qualities are naturally given, rather than built. Examples of heroic leaders in the history have been continuously viewed as inherently talented to influence others greatly.

For a while, I was also one of these trait theory believers. As my personality was outgoing, talkative, and bold, I frequently occurred to me that I would easily be a leader as long as I maintain such qualities of mine. This is also associated with my initial belief about leadership that leader should always be noticeable. But remember what happened? I believe that even those who have perfect composition of personalities that most leaders have can suffer when it comes to leading others.

Leadership is a work; it requires as much effort as any other jobs. Just because you are sitting in higher hierarchy than others doesn't mean that you mean that your workload will be any less. Also, having power doesn't mean that your work will be any easier. Constant practice of reflecting, learning, and applying should be made by the leader to maintain and deserve his/her position.

Lesson 2. Lead with passion.

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As leadership is a lot of work, there are some limitations to lead without the power of passion. I didn't realize how passionate I was with leadership before I took Leadership Fundamentals, but it was pretty clear very soon. If I look back,. I have been always throwing myself into leadership positions regardless of how qualified I am. I have been always excited about guiding people to the directions that connects to achievements. I followed what makes me thrilled and here I am desperately searching for ways to better myself as a leader.

Often times people ask me from where do I get my energies from. To be honest, I have no idea. There is no special strategy or secret treatment I go through to take on the many roles on my plate. The thing is, no matter how much I learn about leadership, I can never get satisfied. I always there is more and I always believe that there are rooms to improve in leadership.

Since I am in this point in my life where I need to seriously think about my job options, which often conflicts with my passion. While making the decisions, I came up with this thought and it helped me making the choice closer to my heart: a leader with only the title can't defeat the leader with skills. However, a leader with skills can never defeat the leader with passion.

Lesson 3. Know thyself.

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To understand your passion is to understand yourself. Your identity and values are the infrastructure of who you are as a leader. Without them, you will simply shake and eventually collapse.

One of the best and memorable exercises I went through during Leadership Fundamentals is defining my identity and values. I didn't realize how complicated and time-consuming it is to write down who I am in a single sentence until I actually tried. After couple of practices, I became so much more conscious of my individuality, appreciating for its' delicacy and complexity. I was the person composed of innumerable dimensions and what I valued directly reflected the story of my life.

Who I am is who I am as a leader. There may be thick books to build someone a great leader, but those leadership bibles will never be able to change what has been already built inside since the person was born. I still don't have a full understanding on who I am because i am still exploring. However, as I discover the pieces of me one by one, I feel that I am becoming a whole person.

Lesson 4. Be a blank page.

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As you can tell by now, I am a firm believer in learning. However, a lot of people don't really realize how hard it can be sometimes. I'm not talking about learning new languages or some medical jargon here. What I want to say here is the difficulty of learning when the new idea challenges our initial beliefs or understanding. Knowledge is fundamentally what enables everything possible, but it can be also extremely detrimental when it is biased. Our bias we hold, whether with us knowing or without, hinders us from accepting what is considered 'different'.

Listening is a powerful source of learning. However, listening can have hardly any or no effect at all with our bias ingrained in our mind to reject new information. That being said, the willingness to be open-minded is a significantly important qualities to have as a leader. While being knowledgeable is also a valuable quality, what would be the point if the leader is resilient to accepting different ideas?

Throughout the semester, the discussions I had in Leadership Fundamentals have strongly influenced me to reflect on my listening qualities. For some reasons, I have been thinking that I am a very good listener but I really wasn't. Once I became aware of the importance of listening skills, I have frequently found myself cutting other people's talking and being impatient before someone makes his/her point. It was after I became conscious of this that I started really practicing how to wait and listen to others with my full attention.

Lesson 5. True heart has a power.

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I've only started noticing this recently mostly through the people who have treated me with true heart. Until now, appearance mattered a lot to me. From how I dress up to how I deal with people, what it seems like from outside was very important consideration for me for a long time. However, everything that is just good on surface level has its' limit. I was constantly faced challenges to connect people above certain degree. Most importantly, I felt 'fake'.

So gratefully, I have met a lot of people who approached me with sincerity. It was interesting because I used to never really pay good attention to those people with true hearts, but taking Leadership Fundamentals helped me to have more detailed eyes for people. Staying around sincere people, I watched how they impact every individual they interact with. Often times the influence was very subtle to notice and so they were very easily underappreciated. But I felt the changes that happened inside me when someone showed genuine care for me or said something full-heartedly.

It is time for me to pay back what I learnt. Although very small, what I say and do with my sincerest intention will have power on people. I believe that having such integrity is the very first step to make great changes possible.

So am I a better leader now?

Honestly? I don't know. Who am I to say that I am 'better'? I mean, what's the criteria and who am I comparing my leadership skills with?

Me.

Who I was before is my only criteria of assessing who I am now, and who I was before is my only point of comparison to see how much I grew, thrive, and beyond.

So far, I have came a long way to just find my own leadership. If you ask me whether I have found one yet, I will tell you, 'No, I will never.' I don't think there's going to be a time where I will be fulfilled with the amount of learning I had in leadership and stop. In fact, there shouldn't be. Learning is by definition continuous and there certainly is no limit to how much you can learn. However, I will proudly present you my journey so far and say, 'Here's what I found so far. Isn't that cool?'

Yeah so, let me tell you my point of all this.

I want to not stop trying. That means, I want to be a leader with endless desire to learn and grow. I want to be a leader with the ability to improve persistently and still see the possibility to be better even further.

To make this happen, to become a person who I wish to be, I need to make rigorous effort to truly live my core values as a leader. There may be changes that are necessary to bring those values fully into my everyday life and I know that it will be painful. However, I am willing because my purpose lies in my passion to make positive impact to the people, to the society, and to the world.

Um yeah, so there you have it: me and my truth as a leader.

I don't know if you still remember, but I clearly mentioned in the beginning that this is my story whether you like it or not. Regardless of your opinion, my story will persist and proudly compose the core of who I am. Just know that there is this exclusive girl with really badass attitude who dreams of being an effective leader and she won't stop pursing that dream.

Again, I'm just sayin'.

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