iConnect taught me the Quiet Leadership

WRITTEN BY: Shawn Xiong, Recruitment Leader, iConnect (Centre for International Experience)

Photo by: Farah Mustafa, former Communication Leader of iConnect


How oxymoronic is it to talk about quiet leadership? Isn’t a leader all about campaigning feverishly, screaming into people’s ears, and denigrating your opponents? Perhaps Donald Trump is the first image comes to a lot of people’s mind. By virtue, quiet leadership hides behind the loud leadership, which may explain why many of us are not aware of it; however, if you look, there are many examples around us. Rosie Park, the lady who refused to empty her seat for a young white male on the public bus, inspired Dr. Martin Luther King to bring civil equality to the USA; Mahatma Gandhi exemplified the non-violence movement that brought the independence of India, the largest democracy to date; Canada, a country has been quietly following her beliefs, becomes the most harmonic, inclusive, and multicultural society in the world. The quiet leadership is about moral action, not the moral speculation; in short, action speaks louder than words.

You may wonder why any of these have anything to do the iConnect, a mentorship program for first year international students at the University of Toronto? Let me tell you a story that happened to me in the iConnect program.

September 16th 2016 is the first program-wise porch social, an opportunity for mentees, mentors, and leaders to meet each other and hash out plans. While organizing the dinner, Asim (program coordinator) frivolously walked passed me and whispered, “ Hey, Shawn, can you talk to the student sit alone behind the DJ’s computer?” I rotated 270° until I found him, a tall and slim guy with yellow long sleeve polo shirt, pale blue jeans, and a sport cap with a team that I can’t recognize. He sat behind the boom box, seemingly contemplating hard. As I approached, he gave with a big smile, and my guard dropped. Instead of bringing him to a larger group, I sat with him, and we chatted. I learned that his name is Anthony and he is a big music fan, especially the electrical dance music. He had been sitting here by himself and pondering whether it is OK to switch to the music on his cell phone. I said: “ Why not? Since we are the only people at the DJ station, let’s do it.” I saw the rise of his eyebrows, as I was saying this to him. He became a little boy that hobbled around to connect the cables to his cell phone; apparently, he had already figured out the details of connection. With succinct and quick tempo at the background, I felt a dam has just been lifted. He told me that he was sick the second day he arrived in Canada, and how difficult it was for him to see a doctor; he asked me why the windows of many building can not be opened; he showed me the new apartment that he procured at Bloor-Yonge; Anthony told me his love of computer science; and more importantly I loved his big hearty smile as he talked and I listened.

Many people may think that I did a good job of communicating with Anthony and brought him out of his shell. However, I say the real and tough job was done before I even started the conversation. Asim identified the needs of a student, and he took action.  A quiet leadership is about identifying people’s needs and more importantly meet such needs.  If Asim had not let me know the whereabouts of Anthony, I would have not learned what’s on Anthony’s mind, and therefore I would have missed an opportunity to meet another curious and spirited young guy. Quiet leadership is to use introverted approach to maximize each individual’s potential. The leaders needn’t to be the front-runners; instead they can be the invisible hand that supports, encourages, and guides the mass to try their best. “Introverted” does not mean silent, shy, or sedentary; instead it emphasizes on empathy, perspective taking, and freedom. Asim trusted me and my ability to solve the issue at hand, and he gave me the opportunity to connect with an amazing person, so that he can help the next in line.

Often we think mentoring as giving advice and sharing experiences. I opine the hidden side of mentoring is to see and listen at the back seat, so that we can truly identify what our students need. Time after time, instead of asking a person to join the large group, why not join him/her; instead of asking why you are sitting by yourself, why not inquire what’s on your mind; instead of being the chatterbox at the center of attention, why not lay back and listen actively (we can listen up to 500 words per minute, but we can only say up to 300 words). In a large and diverse program like iConnect, we frequently observe students sit outside a circle by themselves. I don’t believe they are scared of social interactions; they are quiet, because we have failed to connect them in a meaningful way. The key to (re)connect lies within the Quiet Leadership.

Shawn Xiong, Recruitment Leader

iConnect (Centre for International Experience)

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