The first Sunday of digital detox June had me privileged to speak before this year’s participants of the Asia Student Leadership Conference (ASLC). It is organized by The Smile Mission National Student Executive Committee in partnership with the various student chapters from 9 secondary and tertiary institutions in Singapore. The Smile Mission is a global independent charity with activities in 19 countries working together to treat children with facial deformities such as cleft palates. To date, the charity has had 87 completed missions in 13 Asian countries, with a total of 6,843 children benefitting from its operations.
The theme for this year’s ASLC is “INSIDE OUT”, which focuses on how a leaders’ journey intrinsically begins with themselves – from their values and intentions to the strengths and weaknesses that define them. It is only from the inside that they may find their passion, purpose and drive to serve.
Hoped to share my transcript for the sharing given the thoughtful reflections I put into them so here goes – the first in a series of three, this one is a lesson I thank Halogen Foundation Singapore for teaching me:
“Hi everyone, I am Shermaine and I am so thankful to be standing before you today.
The reality of today is a paradox: we have higher buildings and wider highways, but shorter temperaments and narrower points of view. We spend more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses, but smaller families. More knowledge, less judgment. We have discovered more medicines, but we are observing a decline in general health. Most importantly, we have explored the possibilities of our external environment so immensely, but left much of our inner selves undiscovered. Today, I hope to share with you the story of my search of self and the critical questions I am constantly looking for answers to, even to today.
The first is on influence.
As you are seated in this space, attending the “Asia Student Leadership Conference”, the concept of “leadership” has surely been propagated to you in many forms – as a prestigious position to be awarded or as a practice for self-improvement.
This picture was taken at a campaign called “Imagining Possibilities: Cats in Hats”. I lead a team of juniors, inspired by the idea of emotional management through language to conduct a social-emotional learning workshop for students in Seng Kang Primary School. The vision was simple: for students to be equipped with words and phrases to express adequately their emotions at a young age so that they can choose expression and management instead of aggression and violence.
I remember: when I first had this idea, I wrote a blog post on my WordPress about it. It was a very, very rough idea – I hadn’t expected any individuals, much less an entire team of juniors to respond positively, indicating interest in carrying out this project that felt like only a dream. All together we roped in over 50 volunteer leaders and as a core team of 10 members, we covered the social-emotional learning curriculum with 10 Primary 4 classes across the level.
We have been brought up in societies that only consider leaders in name or position, “leaders”. We put these people on podiums, place a mic in their hands to amplify their voices and we glorify them by framing up pictures of them in institutions. We are taught that leadership requires position and official recognition. This practice has not done justice to the rest of us, who without position are leaders. In our own capacity, we are all “influencers” even without us realizing. Try sending a message that says “I love you” to your mother tonight and you would’ve influenced her to have a great night. Be a mediator when your two good friends are in the midst of an argument and you would’ve influenced them to preserve friendship. At a dining table, encourage everyone to stack up their phones in the middle of the table, influence them all to be present.
We, too often, associate leadership to big, spectacular feats like “saving a country” or “sacrificing one’s life”; all because we look only to role models like Mahatma Gandhi or President Obama as “legitimate leaders”. I would like to propose that leaders, fundamentally are “influencers” – so long as you influence those around you to follow you.
That makes each and every one of us here leaders.
It is only when I realized the gravity of possessing this power of influence, that I consciously exercised it positively. Compare using one’s influence to encourage peers to smoke together or, on the other hand, exercising it to create a culture of students helping students in school so everyone can achieve academic excellence together. Can you imagine? How different our world might be if we were all aware of this influence we each have, and if we then chose carefully how we hoped to exercise it.
I have chosen to use my influence to inspire acts of service, because I believe in the beautiful society we can create if we all gave generously. Your influence is present, if you just try. Start with the people whom you know – share your thoughts and your hopes. You’ll be surprised: they may think the same and you might discover possibilities in translating these dreams into action.
In my last year in secondary school, I started a movement called #TreatsonGivingTuesday. Every year, Singapore celebrates the International Day of Giving, encouraging corporates and individuals to stand up for the causes they believe in. I had a cause I believed in, it was a vision that we would internalize kindness as a way of life. I wanted to show that making someone’s day doesn’t take too much time, it doesn’t require you going out of the way nor spending too much money. The idea was to buy a snack of some sort, bring it along with you over the course of the day and hand it out to strangers you meet along the way. I was nervous (approaching strangers always comes with a million psychological barriers we imagine for ourselves) – so I created a Facebook event and invited all of my closest friends. Within a night, over 70 people had pledged to be part of the #TreatsonGivingTuesday Movement and I received messages the next day about how the kindness they shared with strangers gave them immense joy. I had turned an idea into reality and compounded the efforts by influencing others to partake in the realization of this dream.
In the past we had to hold a mic for many people to be listening to us. Today, the countless social media platforms are easily accessible to all – they are mics that shout out to more than just your friends around you. Whatever you say through social media can cross geographical boundaries, from your neighbourhood to your country, to the region and to everywhere else. This introduces immense potential, for now we all have mics of our own at any time, any place. Imagine now that you have a mic that allows what you have to say to all of Southeast Asia – everyone is listening – what would you want to tell everyone? Surely not what you’ve had for lunch today, or what you’re wearing tomorrow…
We all have influence; we are all leaders. Now more than ever, the rise of social media has introduced immense possibilities for us to maximize that influence. The critical question to ask is “how do we want to exercise that influence”. “