Saturday, 9 August 2008

Bhutan : Back to school to learn leadership

A group of 40 middle-aged Bhutanese bureaucrats were back in school with a teacher from the south – not south India but South Africa – and their classroom was not far from Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in Paro. The male-dominated attendance made it seem like any class they had comprised decades ago in school.

Leaving aside their patangs and scarves, they attended the class with utmost silence as a kindergarten kids would before a strict teacher. There was nervousness in every face. A number of exercises were given to them. Each activity tested their personality, attitude, temperament, and leadership qualities.

Just as the class started, the lights went off. There was a murmur all around as if a bunch of children were missing lunch.

The executive seminar in Paro yesterday, which was attended by government secretaries, director generals and directors from various departments, aimed at making the participants understand the need for developing personal leadership and self management.

Dirk Maris, a consultant from Vision Quest Africa, who was the main resource speaker, began by quoting Nelson Mandela: “You cannot change society if you have not changed yourself.” Leadership has to do with doing the right thing, he said, while management has to do with doing things right.

He asked a number of questions to the participants. How do you respond to change? How do you make decisions? How you are at planning? What does it takes for you to become angry? How are you at getting things started? How well do you finish what you have started? The bureaucrats penned answers to these questions. Most agreed that it was common practice in Bhutan to not complete something one had started.

The bureaucrats were told about four kinds of temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholy and phlegmatic, and that all people had a mixture of these. Using different colours, they were asked to choose their personality. A number of exercises were given where the participants worked in groups.

Dirk Maris asked the Bhutanese bureaucrats said that people with choleric temperament were task driven but asked if too much of it made such people bossy. “Yes, sir,” came the unanimous chorus answer.

The seminar is expected to enable the executives be competent as influential leaders and managers of families, organisations and society as a whole.

It is important for top leaders to change with time by fine-tuning their knowledge and adapting with changing times, said the Minister for Works and Human Settlement, upon opening the seminar. The government should always be supported by a strong civil service that made policy initiatives.

The quality of service rendered by the civil servants depends on their integrity and commitment, the minister said, adding that the civil service had become more complex in the new democratic setup so the civil servants shouldn’t be carried away by petty politicians.

Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba advised the civil servants to put the importance of the nation above that of their departments or sectors.

Everyone is a manager of himself or herself and, to become a successful leader, relationships are important, Dirk Maris said. Just as no two thumbs were alike, no two personalities were alike. The implication of recognizing this offers new opportunities for self-understanding and growth, for improved communication and positive relationships, and for team work that utilizes the gift of each member in conscious synergy.

The executive seminar explored how one’s own outlook on life determined the kind of leader and manager one was. It studied the importance of values, principles and ideals on becoming more effective, and on using lifelong learning, growth and renewal at different levels of intelligence: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual.

So, the next time you visit a government office don’t be surprised if you find the bureaucrats more responsive and friendly. Then again, don’t be surprised if things go back to the way they were when the fervour of the seminar wanes away.

Text by Rabi C. Dahal
Photo: Lhendup

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