The United Nations, and Finding Your Personal Legend

Yesterday, a group of Edward S Mason Fellows at the Harvard Kennedy School had the privilege of listening to Gillian Sorenson, a former UN Asst Sec Gen, and widow of the late Ted Sorenson, who was Special Counsel to President John F Kennedy, and a personal hero on mine.

Some takeaways from that illuminating talk:

  1. Life can take you in strange directions. It is helpful to have a general plan of where you think life will lead you, but you have to always be attuned to what the Universe is telling you, and be prepared to have your Personal Legend (fans of The Alchemist will be able to appreciate this). Gillian Sorenson followed her interest in politics, and parlayed that into what seems to be a very satisfying and enriching career in the United Nations.
  2. You never know until you try. Gillian Sorenson cut her teeth in politics campaigning for Ed Koch, who she described as 8th place in a field of 8 candidates running for Mayor of New York City. Who knew that a relatively anonymous House member could have won office as mayor of the largest city in the world? I suppose Ed Koch didn’t either, when he chose to run for Mayor.
  3. Public speaking can change your life, or hold you back. Some of the smartest and most compassionate people in the world, can fail as leaders of their organisations if they are unable to step up and represent their organisations as effective and compelling public representatives. Public speaking ability is at the heart of how we represent our organisations and our communities. It still amazes me how so little of public education in Malaysia (for that is the public system I am most knowledgeable of) puts emphasis on the ability to speak in public.


The Pemandu Experience

After Idris Jala’s visit to Kennedy School last week, a number of Harvard Kennedy School students – those who attended the talk as well as those who couldn’t make the time because of scheduling conflicts – have reached out to me, to learn more about the Pemandu experience, to understand what I went through in the early days of Pemandu’s establishment, or just to find out what Idris is like as a leader and as a person. Some have even asked me if they could apply to join Pemandu!

It gladdens me to realize that what we were doing in Pemandu was truly ground-breaking stuff. Those early years weren’t easy, and even today, Pemandu gets more than its fair share of brickbats. But when HKS professors and students get all excited, wanting to learn more of the Malaysian experience, it just brings that Malaysia Boleh spirit in me soaring ever higher.


On Consistency

I read a blogpost from the Time Management Ninja blog that was very inspiring today.

Blogger Craig Jarrow has built a blog on time management, which I follow via Twitter, and some of his insights are interesting reminders of the importance of always being mindful about how we manage our time.

So it was quite impressive when I discovered that he has been blogging every day for five years. That is quite a feat of discipline and tenacity.

We often tell ourselves that we intend to create change, and make a difference in our lives and that of others. But how often do we follow up on that conviction, with daily consistency, come hell or high water?

If leadership is about nurturing positive change in ourselves and others, then consistency is the key to getting there.