Lessons of friend leadership

"You can’t lead others if you can’t lead yourself."



History does repeat itself. Stretched across 70 years, an organization of passionate young leaders, espousing a vision of “active citizenship,” find themselves once again in an almost analogous conundrum.

The Junior Chamber International (JCI) Philippines was born from the ashes of the Second World War, with its pioneering members undertaking the task of clearing Manila’s streets of the rubble left by the war. Their steadfast idealism was not easily dampened by long-out-drawn post-war reconstruction, but instead it fueled in them an even more passionate spirit for service.

More than 70 years after, the current leadership of JCI Philippines had to face the proverbial series of unfortunate events, as the nation continues to grapple with crisis after crisis - from the Taal volcano eruption to the coronavirus pandemic to the succession of typhoons and floods.

Pursuing leadership responsibilities in the face of such adversity must have been a daunting proposition – but not for the incumbent national president of JCI Philippines, Mark Joseph David.

Many are in fact proud to consider Mark as a friend, a mentor and a leader. He spent more than a quarter of his life being part of the largest global network of young active citizens, pruning and priming his leadership skills as he ascended the leadership ladder of JCI Philippines.

One could say that for years Mark prepared for the highest national position in our organization, only for his plans to be frustrated as nature took its course.

Where others would have given up, Mark continued to steadily steer the organization during this time of crisis. He has proven himself not only as a leader in a time of need but as a leader indeed and in deed.

While several national programs could not be implemented this year, he focused the organization’s energies and resources for the widest mobilization of its disaster response program, Oplan Kaagapay, furthering support to communities affected not only by natural calamities but even those under quarantine measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among many leadership models, such as “servant leadership” and “effective leadership” there is one that seldom gets the attention from theorists and practitioners – that is, the model of “friend leadership”.

Such is the leadership lesson that Mark will leave JCI Philippines with as he winds up his one year to lead this week.

“Friend leadership” is built upon the principle that leadership is first and foremost a relationship among people who together learn, own and fulfill a vision that they share and affirm.

A “friend leader” therefore attributes his capacity to lead to his own humanity – in his attentiveness, availability and ability to listen actively and with empathy. He is generous with his strengths but he is not shy about his limitations. Therefore, he allows others to learn and be inspired from even his own shortcomings.

That is exactly what Mark did. He did not present himself as an all-knowing, tall and mighty leader as what others commonly do. Instead, he proved himself to be a learner-on-the-job, painstakingly analyzing the problems with the team rather than instantaneously conjuring solutions from his sleeve.

Those who worked alongside him saw and heard Mark express his frustrations, or even share his anxieties about the uncertainty that the crisis has brought not only to JCI Philippines but to society as whole. But when all things were considered, he took the first step of leading JCI Philippines to where in a moment of crisis it should be – on the frontlines.

Truly, you can’t lead others if you can’t lead yourself.

Service to humanity is not served by leadership in a moment of convenience, but it is rather shaped in a time of challenges. In his one year to lead, Mark inspired our members with an even more invigorated confidence in themselves and instilled in our organization a renewed understanding of its role in the larger society.

As national president, Mark best exemplified what it means to be a true “friend leader” – with his altruism, honesty, trust, reciprocity and compassion.

Altruism. Like friendship, true leadership involves selflessness and concern for the well-being of others. In leading JCI Philippines, Mark was always willing to put the needs of others ahead of himself, looking out for members who might have been affected whether by the natural calamities or the COVID-19 pandemic. But more than that, he never failed to pay attention to the minutest needs of our members – always wanting to bring the best in those he led.

Honesty. Not only during this crisis, but from his very first day in office, Mark had the gift of candor, and as a true leader never failed to encourage others to be honest and frank with their feedback and even with their criticisms. But despite his openness, Mark is a person of dialogue. He was never unkind with his words, or brash with his demeanor, allowing others to communicate more truthfully with him.

Trust. Without trust, it would be impossible to lead. But more than having confidence in each other, genuine leadership requires faith in each other, the assurance that if anything goes wrong the leader will be always there for the others, and the certainty that no matter how much one errs or fails, he will never leave anyone behind. In probably one of the most trying times of JCI Philippines, Mark became, for every officer and member, a trusted shoulder to rely on – for steady guidance and generous resources, for dependable advice and comforting encouragement and even for a good laugh or an assuring insight.

Reciprocity. As any leader, Mark had to make the hard decisions. In the first uncertain months of the pandemic, he tried to dissuade local chapters from implementing their projects, with the intent of keeping everyone safe from any possible infection. But he did not stop at that – he continued to keep himself abreast of the situation, until he finally relented and gradually allowed local chapters to continue with their projects. Mark was not the leader who expected himself to be listened to, but one who actually cared enough to listen to and learn from others – even if it means correcting his own decisions.

Compassion. There was no question about Mark being a leader. In the same way, there was never the slightest doubt about him being a true friend. He was always respectful and considerate to others, so much so that others would easily be at ease around him. In fact, Mark would gladly make a call or send a message to a member in trouble, just to be a listening ear. From day one to the very last week of his term, Mark was always hands-on in helping our members to become leaders themselves.

Mark could have easily cloaked himself behind the uncertainties of the crisis as an excuse for a lackluster term in office. But not only did he showed genuine leadership in a time of need, but he actually raised the bar of leadership by being a real friend to all.

For these and for many other reasons, Mark Joseph David truly deserves the recognition that the Junior Chamber International has conferred upon him – this year’s most outstanding JCI national president in the world.

Topics: Junior Chamber International Philippines , coronavirus pandemic , Mark Joseph David
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