What are the leadership moments of your life?

Posted at 01/20/2013 3:31 PM

My wife, Girlie Lorenzo, is the executive director of Kythe. I would go with her to hospitals as a good husband and because I admire her work. However, I have a hard time coping with the thought of children with cancer. As I got to know her work, I developed an appreciation of the graces Kythe has granted their volunteers. I saw Kythe as one venue where leaders are formed.

On many occasions, past volunteers of Kythe would visit Girlie at her office to ask for her advice about their careers and life decisions. More than once, ‘Kythers’ (Kythe volunteers) would ask for Girlie’s written recommendation for their masters or job applications. I noticed that these volunteers are all achievers; doing well with their careers. I also saw that their love for Kythe was something common in all of them.

Finally, I found that they all look at my wife with high regard. Perhaps these Kythers are endeared to Girlie because she was part of their defining moments. When Girlie spoke once about it, I found out why. In her talk, she mentioned how the children in hospitals brought out the best out of Kythers.

Whenever a volunteer would talk to Girlie about their career, I can only imagine the kind of leader they will become. I see them like the Good Governance Champions and Ethical Leaders I deal with in Kaya Natin.

Because of my exposure to Kythe, I also found myself thinking about how the Kaya Natin Good Governance Champions are formed. When I engage them, I think, ask, and sometimes speculate about their defining moments. “Have they gone thru moments similar to what Kythe volunteers have?” I would usually wonder.

Shirlyn Macasarte Villanueva, a board member, and a Kaya Natin Champion in Midsyap, North Cotabato was shot in an ambush on December, 2008. This experience left her with a cane to walk for the rest of her life. In spite of this, her motto as she would say, “When I serve the people, I serve God.” I can only imagine the kind of conversation she had with God during her trying times. After her ordeal, she has deepened her service by establishing SAKLAY that helps many Persons With Disabilities. When I think about Board Member Shirlyn, I often wonder how she has turned her suffering into something life-giving to many.

Jun Versoza, Tagudin mayor, and another Kaya Natin Champion from Ilocos Sur was a career officer of the PNP in the seventies. He is also unbeatable as Mayor of Tagudin. When I asked him about his leadership secret, he said, “Humility. The more you are humble, the more people will follow.”

Mayor Jun’s leadership style is ‘anchored on maximum consultation, participation of every constituent and the principle of co-ownership’ as he is described by Tieza Santos in the Kaya Natin stories of champions. When I try to connect this to my usual perception of a PNP officer, I marvel at the irony. I can only imagine Mayor Jun’s journey. This 2013 Elections, Mayor Jun Versoza is running for Governor of Ilocos Sur against Chavit Singson. They are both strongmen but I cannot help but highlight the humility of Mayor Jun in contrast to Chavit Singson.

'Among' Ed Panlilio served under the social action of his diocese in Pampanga for many years. He is also very humble. He is someone who speaks gently yet has a deep dedication and conviction towards his mission. When I ask him about leadership, he said, “nagsasakripisyo, hindi nagpapamayanan, may isang salita, naninindigan sa tama, mahinahon.”

Among Ed sacrificed his vocation to run for Governor of Pampanga against Lilia Pineda. He went from a life of security to a life of uncertainty. When I speculate about his thoughts and considerations, I am humbled by the exercise of his Faith.

Commissioner Grace Padaca, when she would speak for Kaya Natin would say, “Dati exempted ako sa Physical Education when I was in school because polio. But when I saw the corruption in the province, I decided to run for office dahil ayoko maging exempted in fighting corruption.” She has said this more than once and every time I hear this, I always speculate about the trials that Commissioner Grace has gone through as a polio victim. I am inspired to see how she did not use her handicap as an excuse. I see her as a strong example of a person who has gone beyond herself to serve the country.

In my engagement, I constantly found these leaders continue to be life-givers that seek more about themselves to serve. They have learned to draw strength from within to serve even in times of crisis. They draw strength from within more than from external factors. They are all self-aware and are capable of tapping their core competencies to step up and perform when many would cower.

Finally, I saw they are people who are very ready to sacrifice when they see something good for the country. How did they become like this? When they tell their stories in the Kaya Natin gatherings, I saw they went through several leadership moments in their lives. They responded the same way that ingrained the nature of sacrifice and leading in there being. I found that these moments need not have come when they were elected in office.

What are leadership moments? We need to answer this in order to expand our perspective of leadership beyond being elected or appointed. We need to see leadership as moments that demand us to step-up. These are moments when we were shaken and compelled to rethink about our values.

The Kaya Natin Champions are ordinary people who have become extra-ordinary because of a series of leadership moments. These are people who have allowed those moments to reform who they are into people who can go beyond themselves and their fears to give life to others with skills that they have.

When Girlie spoke about leadership, I finally connected how Kythe was developing people into great men and women. I would like to include her talk in my article this week so you can see what I see in Kythe.

Kythe’s Passion for Caring

Kythe is a venue where we make change. For years, we have provided volunteer opportunities for students to interact with children who are sick and dying.

Kythe-Ateneo is a volunteer group wherein they learn about the Kythe Child Life Program. They visit patients in our affiliate hospitals on a weekly basis. A few years ago, they met Juvedeth who had cancer -acute lymphocytic leukemia. She was turning 18. The student-volunteers planned to give her a grand debut celebration. They reserved the Officers Club in AFP Medical Center, prepared her gown, arranged for hair and make-up and they even invited 18 cute guys to give 18 roses.

The student-volunteers were very excited until one week before the debut, Juvedeth died. The students were devastated. Their hearts and spirits were broken. During the debriefing they realized there was no other way to ease the grief except to go through it. Ultimately, they found peace in realizing that they were able to give Juvedeth hope and joy, while she was alive.

College students are in search of identity. During college, it is a time when we start to discover who we are and the best of what we can become. This is an excellent time for Kythe to engage the students because we provide leadership moments for our volunteers. When they are faced with a dying patient, who has not much time to live, they are compelled to search within themselves to give joy, to love and to care for the dying children.

In a bizarre twist of fate, when the children are at their weakest, close to their dying moments, they are at the most influential, most powerful, grace-giving moment for the volunteers. It is at these times when the children imbue the spirit of Kythe…the Passion for Caring.

Passion for Caring is simply the search from within to discover the best about yourself to care more. It is what St. Ignatius calls Magis. You know, every time our volunteer is about to meet our Kythe kids, they go through a mental inventory of their skills and strengths, all to ask themselves how can I care more. “Nagiisip sila paano magbigay ng buhos, lubos at ubos.”

I think there is wisdom when you choose to journey with the dying because there is a spirit that impels you to suspend your personal interest to search and give all of yourself to care. This is the leadership moment and practice we provide in Kythe. It is a moment when they are challenged to abandon themselves. It is a leadership practice when they choose to do so; to love the children more than themselves.

This is probably why many of our volunteers after so many years happily greet me when I bump into them in the malls. I am endeared to them when in actuality, it is Kythe that is endearing. Kythe is part of the best of who they are because during their search for identity, we are with them as they discovered more than what they expected of themselves.

We have volunteers like Minnie Fong, who was Kythe-Ateneo president in college, then became an executive at Unilever. She became a member of the Kythe Board of Trustees. She is now in Berkley,California studying for her Master’s Degree in Economics. Cla Valencia was also Kythe president. She is now studying at the Ateneo School of Management and Public Health and will specialize in pediatric oncology. Ayie Zerrudo, who was the Secretary-General of Kythe-Ateneo, is now the program director of The Asia Society. All three of them are still in touch with Kythe.

Passion for caring is the spirit which drives Kythe. Our Kythe Child Life Program is a venue for transformative learning. It is a venue where our volunteers practice Magis. You know, it is ironic that in the Kythe Child Life Program, our volunteers say that as they try to give all of themselves, in the end, they feel that they have received more. Passion for Caring and the Kythe Child Life Program are the reasons why Kythe lasted for 20 years. This is how we have become a catalyst for change.

As I get to know Kythe’s work and I witness leaders in Kaya Natin, I deepened my notion of leadership. First, I found that great leaders practiced leadership long before they have gotten to where they are. Second, I found that leadership come from certain moments in our lives. Finally, I found that leadership must be constantly exercised to be honed.
Have you realized your leadership moments?


Comments are welcome at [email protected] or private message through Facebook. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jesslorenzo for stories of good governance.

Jess Lorenzo is currently the program director of Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership's public health initiatives. www.kayanatin.org @kayanatin on Twitter