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KISSAH AND DAWAT: Beyond leadership, the many roles to building peace

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ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 29 November) —  Peacebuilding is everybody’s need and interest. It is happening at a personal level as it is at national and global levels, and with varying perspectives, needs and interests. As we are in the midst of the Mindanao Week of Peace, there are many who will be seeking roles to play in its observance and beyond.

One will notice that instead of a unified theme, certain group has adopted their own thematic focus. Here lies a realpolitik in peacebuilding. Everyone wants to make a name for himself or herself. Everyone wants to lead. In fact, for many of us, leadership is the barometer of success. We have been groomed in schools to succeed and that success is associated with leadership. Almost every school has a mission of “producing future leaders.” How many schools have you seen where the school mission is to “develop better persons”, “develop citizens who are passionate with their chosen vocation” or “develop active citizens”? Almost none. Following this thinking, if you are in a leadership position, you have succeeded and if not yet in a leadership post, then you need to aspire; if not, you are a nobody, a flop or worse, a failure.

Leadership Equals Success Mindset. Let us be clear, leadership is crucial; but not everyone can be a leader, that is, as defined by Oxford Dictionary, “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country” or “the principal player …”. This “leadership equals success” mindset is partly the reason why many in leadership position do not want to give up their post or share their leadership responsibility; for fear that there is no more success beyond their current leadership post or that giving up their post is like giving up success altogether. They do not see leadership as developing the next generation who can succeed them, except when such successors are their blood relations.

Hero Mentality, Hero Syndrome and Messiah Complex. This “leadership equals success” mindset is further worsened by our “hero mentality,” making heroes out of anything and everything. It is as if only heroes can do better than active or conscientious citizens. We have infused the qualities of courage, achievements, or noble qualities on these heroes. Thus, to be considered successful, one has to be a hero. I fear that this mentality is bordering on the hero syndrome. In psychology, the hero syndrome is described as “the behavior of a person seeking heroism or recognition, usually by creating a harmful situation to objects or persons which they then can resolve.” Another related concept is the messiah complex from psychiatry where the person believes s/he is the savior of the group or organization.

Beyond Leadership Role. Collectively, these mindsets in a political environment where bossism is very prevalent, are fueling our current attraction to leadership, and for some at any means and all cost. We are also guilty in civil society of these mindsets and will continue to do so unless we start articulating engagement beyond leadership squabble. Peacebuilding is supposedly inclusive, teamwork, shared tasks and mutual learning. In doing so, there are a lot of roles that we can be put to task depending on our passion, background, interest, affiliation and so on. There are roles in the limelight and there are roles behind it. These are both equally important roles.

Team player and Mentorship. But I would like to highlight certain roles, we the more senior, mature and experienced in peacebuilding, can play in a group or organization beyond leading it. One is as a team player, particularly as a cooperator in completing a task by building from our decades-old experiences and wisdom. Let the young ones lead. Let us stay behind in helping them build good plans and activities. Another is serving as a mentor. In a Forbes article, writer Celine De Costa wrote, “Millennials don’t want (nor will respond to) an archaic management system that dictates rules and constraints – this generation craves mentors that guide and inspire them … We need leaders who set us up for success, instill in us a sense of bigger purpose, and give us the confidence we need to persevere when the work gets challenging”[1]. Interestingly, mentoring these days can be approached differently – individually, as a group and even anonymously[2].

Coaching. What I have been doing on a personal capacity after leaving regional government post is coaching. From a number of civil society organizations and individuals in my city, I connected with some of them, spent time listening and talking to them, a lot of mutual sharing from their current experiences and my past experiences and after a series of informal conversation over kahawa, the Tausug locally-brewed coffee, we have mutually agreed to get into a coaching arrangement. For one, it may be about certain technical skills. For another, it may be about showing opportunities beyond their comfort zone. With a women organization I am coaching, I am happy to see them getting their proposals approved, and to see their organization viewed as a reliable local partner for a number of funding agencies.

Intergenerational Efforts. Beyond leadership and peacebuilding is the need for us senior players to recognize that the tasks of peacebuilding is inter-generational. It would be too late for us to start preparing our second liners or the next generation of peacebuilders and advocates only when we are about to retire or only when we are moving up to the next higher level within the organization. This inter-generational prism is fundamental to continuity, sustainability and solidarity of our peacebuilding efforts. Within an organization, it can be at a macro level through policies and processes; and outside, can be at a micro level, through personal relations.

If we fail to do so, we will have by our inaction contributed to a ‘generation gap’[3]; the mistakes of the past, e.g. historical, structural and cultural injustices, can be repeated unnecessarily instead of being learned from; and good practices forgotten. Nigerian human rights, civil rights and democracy activist, founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) Hafsat Abiola captured it well when she said, “Peace comes from being able to contribute the best that we have, and all that we are, toward creating a world that supports everyone. But it is also securing the space for others to contribute the best that they have and all that they are.” Not just the leaders. Not just the present. Not just us.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)

[1]De Costa, Celine. (2018). “The Millennial Workforce Needs Mentors, Not Managers” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/celinnedacosta/2018/05/25/the-millennial-workforce-needs-mentors-not-managers/?sh=13129b1d127a

[2]Meister, Jeanne and Karie Willyerd. (2010). “Mentoring Millennials” – https://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials

[3]Leng Leng Thang. (2011). “Promoting intergenerational understanding between the young and old: the case of Singapore” – https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/family/docs/egm11/EGM_Expert_Paper_Theng_Leng_Leng.pdf


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