What does the Kansas Leadership Center have to offer to people in a developing country who are passionate about the common good?
With that question in mind and eager for adventure, faculty member Tim Steffensmeier and I traveled to Myanmar in Southeast Asia during the last week of September. We journeyed to the country formerly known as Burma as observers and consultants, exploring the possibility that segments of what KLC teaches could be useful to mid-career leaders there.
A Wichita philanthropist provided the bridge between two leadership development efforts half a world apart, affording us the opportunity to meet individuals engaged in a yearlong leadership training program in Myanmar. The participants crave western books and listen eagerly for tips about how to do their jobs better. If those we met are any indication, at least two generations in Myanmar are hungry for anything to help fill holes in their education.
The leadership program meets that need and helps promote innovation and entrepreneurship. It draws 35 individuals per year from community-based organizations, international nongovernmental organizations,businesses large and small, and even government. They encounter a level of diversity uncommon in this country. Program participants are visible grateful, energized and anxious to soak up every last opportunity.
Our brief session about leadership the KLC way took place on a Wednesday evening – after a long day of classes in finance, business writing and goal setting. We delivered our lesson in English, with occasional pauses for translation of key concepts. Participants embrace the challenge of speaking almost entirely in English, knowing that the language is essential to participation in a global economy. When we offered the principle thatleadership is an action, available to anyone, anytime, anywhere, numerous participants sat up and listened.
When we talked about adaptive work one of them spoke up about empowering women in rural villages. Tim and I glanced at one another, both thinking “Hurray! We’re communicating.”
There are countless differences between Kansas and Myanmar, but we share the need to make progress on deep daunting challenges that require engaging others and acting experimentally. And patience, especially patience.
As anyone who has attempted to exercise leadership knows, patience is difficult. And it’s especially difficult in a country that is bursting with anxious hope for a prosperous, democratic future.
Julia Fabris McBride is the vice president of the Kansas Leadership Center.