By Jesus Enrique G. Garcia II
As we usher in the New Year, it’s also a chance to reflect on an eventful 2022.
I was lucky to receive a scholarship from the Ayala Fund and permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs to fulfill a life-long dream.
I attended the Harvard Kennedy School as an Edward S. Mason Fellow (HKS) and graduated in May 2022 with a Mid-Career Master’s in Public Administration (MC-MPA).
Learning on the inside
While at Harvard, I aimed to acquire the skills and tools to become a better leader and public servant. Yet, the most important learning was internal. There was something deeper, transformative, going on. My year at Harvard changed me, at the core.
Since it’s impossible to recount all the people, places, and things that made the year so precious, here are some key lessons I carry with me.
During “Exercising Leadership,” I kept insisting on procedures and order, when it was clear the objective was to surf the chaos.
When our professor stepped back as authority figure, the class turned into Lord of the Flies. Factions formed and attacked one another. Some wanted to concentrate on the readings, others wanted no agenda.
There was endless argument. Being used to instructions and rules, I couldn’t take the heat.
Then I got it: the class was a mirror of society where everyone’s yelling at each other, supporting similar views and negating the opposition. There was little listening, let alone understanding.
This was the crux of the matter – how do you survive and exercise leadership in such an environment? How do you “hold” conflicting interests?
Connecting to purpose was central. If we can’t define our purpose, then somebody else will.
Getting to the balcony
At the start of “Leadership from the Inside-Out: Self, Identity, and Freedom,” which focused on anti-black racism and sexism, Professor Ronald Heifetz told me “this class is designed to break your heart open.” And it did.
I was moved to tears by Eve Esler’s The Apology and took the floor to apologize to my female classmates for all the pain men caused to women.
A classmate who worked with battered women in China commented what I said helped her change the way she thought about men.
Over the semester, we analyzed our leadership failures, diagnosing ourselves as complex systems.
We often don’t recognize the forces shaping our behaviors that we inherit from our families, groups, and cultures. Becoming more aware of them, “getting to the balcony,” was crucial to effect positive change.
Most want easy answers, to be told what to do and maintain the status quo.
But the easy answers are static and oversimplify. To evolve, we need to adapt to challenges and realities as they emerge, especially crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
In all this, we have to accept uncertainty and conflict, and “hold steady.” It takes courage, but also humility and an open mind.
These principles and approaches, which we discussed in small teams and sections, helped me navigate a personal matter. My classmates, professors, and coaches provided me valuable counsel and a support base.
My wife moved to Brussels to pursue her career and I had to “change the narrative” of what I believed being a husband and father were all about.
I had to look after our kids on my own during the spring semester—while going to classes, taking exams, and submitting final papers.
I learned that vulnerability was not something to be ashamed of. It can be an opening for healing and growth.
Taking care of the kids at Harvard was one of the most rewarding times in my life that I will always cherish.
A community of change makers
Despite the heavy workload, Harvard was lots of fun—there were so many events, parties, Red Sox and Celtics games, barbeques, bike rides, coffees, and bar nights.
I made friends from all over the world who were dedicated to improving their organizations, communities, and countries.
One was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, another was an elected Senator. Some founded their own non-profits and companies, others built schools and hospitals. Many worked for their governments and armed services.
I learnt immensely from their wisdom and journeys.
Often, we would just hang out and discuss ideas and projects. We realized that being at the Kennedy School was a privilege that came with heavy responsibility. “Ask what you can do,” is the school’s motto.
I have no doubt my classmates will continue to do much for their tribes and society as a whole.
Looking back and ahead
As I’ve returned to “the real world,” the learning continues through reflection and application.
Professor Francis Hartmann, who taught “Effective Implementation,” encouraged us to distill our “triple A priorities” and draw up a “game plan.”
Mine consists of these: be the best dad I can be, serve the Philippines well as a diplomat, give back to those in need, and keep writing.
My year at Harvard is a renewable resource.
It inspires me to learn from failure, to risk, ask tough questions, connect to purpose and get to the balcony, and never give up working to make a difference.
Come on, 2023!
(The author is Director and Career Minister, Divisions 5 and 6, Peace and Security, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Office of United Nations and Other International Organizations Department of Foreign Affairs)