Lessons in Failed Leadership (Out of the Universe)

Categories Leadership, Op-Eds, Out of the Universe

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I committed one HUGE mistake that proved almost-fatal to my political career when I was in college: I wanted to emulate someone whose position I was aspiring for, and when I finally reached that position my intentions failed to translate into effective actions. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about the responsibilities that were entrusted to me or about the constituency that voted for me—in fact, my involvement in the student council meant pretty much everything to me in those days. In hindsight, I now see that my failure then was caused partly by my failure to understand WHY my “idol” did things the way he did, what he was trying to work towards, and what particular strengths I brought to the table that would have been my own unique contribution to the organization.

In short, I tried so hard to be someone I was not—and that caused so much grief for me and especially for the people I worked with.

In trying to be like my idol I wanted to copy everything that he did—even if it wasn’t working for our batch’s “mix” and our particular circumstances. In wanting everything to be “perfect” I sometimes failed to even begin because I was already bogged down by too many unnecessary details. In focusing on my position instead of on my responsibilities I lost sight of the reason why I was there in the first place.

That guy was a hero of sorts for me. But because I didn’t try to understand his motivations and because I still had a very shallow understanding of myself and my roles, I failed to become the leader—the hero—that I also wanted to be.

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I am sharing this at the wake of the launch of the I Am Ninoy campaign and on the celebration of National Heroes Day because I have seen youth’s folly of trying to follow in the exact same footsteps of our elders and our heroes—only to be defeated and heartbroken because we assumed so many things and forgot so many others.

We assume that just because certain things worked for our elders and heroes (e.g., People Power) that those things will work for us as well. We forget that times differ, circumstances and personalities involved differ, and so outcomes will most likely differ as well.

We assume that just because they did certain things that those things “must have” worked. We forget that behind every story of victory are countless, untold stories of defeat and shame. (Imagine what could not be written in the history books!)

We assume that our heroes are infallible, perfect. We forget that, like us, they stumble and fall, they have their own failures and weaknesses, and that they, too, are subject to ego, pride, and all the nasty little things that can cause a human being to briefly swallow his principles and ideals. (Ever wonder why many heroes die young? Maybe because if they had lived to grow old they would have crossed over to the dark side as well.)

We assume that everything our heroes did was for “love of country.” We forget that, sometimes, life sets in and forces people—people like us, people like even our heroes—to choose practicality, pragmatism, convenience, or their own comforts and preferences. (I’m sure that whenever Rizal would profess his love for a woman it wasn’t necessarilypara la patria adorada.)

We assume, most dangerously of all, that we can fit into any leader’s or hero’s mold if we put our minds, hearts, and souls into it. We forget that we have our own strengths, talents, and capabilities and that we can be heroes in our own mold. (Yes, it’s easier to copy-and-paste, but that’s plagiarism. Be your own, beautifully written, original piece of work.)

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And while it’s great that we are now being reminded of who Ninoy was and what he has done for the country, I exhort every young Filipino here: FIND YOUR OWN STRENGTH AND BE YOUR OWN HERO. Don’t be a “second-rate, trying hard copycat” of someone else; be the ultimate version of yourself that you can possibly be. Because if you can’t even be the best version of yourself in this planet, then what makes you think you’ll be a great version of someone else?

I Am Ninoy campaignSo if you want to be a Ninoy, by all means, GO AHEAD. But be clear, first of all, about what Ninoy means to you; about what qualities he has that you think this country needs now, in 21st-century Philippines; about what YOU have that you can contribute to this country; about why you’re doing this, and so on. Don’t believe everything that you hear or read about—do your own research. Don’t swallow everything that people tell you about what you should and should not be doing—go ahead and discover your own, authentic truths.

As the old adage goes, “First, know thyself.” It is only after that when you can unleash your true heroism and truly make a difference.

And now that I’m a tad older—hopefully a tad wiser—I can now confidently say: I am Niña, not Ninoy. And it’s perfectly okay; I’ll go and make a difference anyway.

Communicator, Connector, Changemaker | Co-founder and Chief Fireball of Kick FIre Kitchen | Prolific writer and public speaker | Startup mentor and educator