04 Apr 2019

Lessons in Leadership (A Father – Son Odyssey)

“The 2 most important days of your life is the day you were born,

and the day you discover WHY?” – Mark Twain

This story begins in 2011 when I did my first charity ride with a German charity called The Tour of Hope (TTOH) where we rode from Bangkok to Chiangmai to raise Money to build libraries in the rural part of northern Thailand. It was from there I began to believe that the bicycle is a very powerful tool which can change people and at the same time impact other lives. Riding 10 other tours further reinforced my believe that education was the greatest gift we can give anyone.

In 2015, I decided to take my son Nathanael with me to ride the epic ride from Bangkok to Phuket which was a journey of 750km over 7 days through the most beautiful parts of south Thailand. Prior to this Nathanael and I were doing triathlons and duathlons together however this journey was a totally different proposition to swimming, cycling and running in 3-4 hours for an 18 year old. His first journey was not something he was prepared for….riding over a 100km a day thru the heat and being battered by the south west monsoon, was an eye opener and a challenge to him

However in 2016 I and several other friends felt that the direction TTOH was going did not resonate with us and after much soul-searching, Nathanael felt that I had the ability to organise my own tour. In mid 2016, together with 19 other fool hardy individuals from the four corners of the globe came together to ride A WEEK OF LAUGHTER TOUR better known as the ‘AWOL Tour’. Three years on the AWOL tour is aims to bring sustainable education to marginalised and the under privileged.

At the heart of any leadership program, the aim is always to build Character. With Character comes Ownership, Accountability, Purpose, Responsibility & the Willingness to Learn. Character building does not happen overnight and sometimes that transformation process may take years which does create a sense of impatience with stakeholders in any organisation. Sometimes we are trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ in searching for that quick fix in trying to bring Character values into our organisations.

I for one strongly believe that building character cannot be taught, it has to be caught! As parents we all spend a great portion of our lives trying to instill character and values in our children. Short of molly-coddling our kids, we place great emphasis on learning and the use of a controlled environment for their recreation in the hope that it instills discipline and at the same time builds character. In reality this adds to the child skill-set and not mind-set.

Mind-set development only happens when a person lives outside his comfort zone where he is not used to his daily lifestyle and everyday presents new challenges and creates different expectations and with it different results. This ultimately creates a value system.

As a father we seek out the best for our children in the hope that they become their own person. Sometimes, things and events which has had a profound influence in our lives is something we hope to transmit to our children and with this Nathanael and I embarked on our first journey together in 2015. I cannot speak for him but it best I allow him to express himself

In his own words…….

When my father first approached me to join The Tour of Hope in 2015, I was excited and nervous at the same time. As the days passed and the starting point of the tour approaching, I began to get more and more nervous, more for the fact that I would be unable to keep up with the rest of the riders as I was the youngest cyclist with the least amount of experience.

Arriving in Bangkok, I met a whole group that came from different parts of the world and backgrounds, from Germany to Singapore. Everyone riding the tour was very friendly and supportive. I grew fond of the group I was cycling with and the purpose it held. Touching the lives of children less fortunate from where I come. Being able to feel that we are making a difference and stepping out of our comfort zone to touch different lives.

As the tour came to an end and the plans for 2016 was announced, we found that has lost its direction as it was not sensitive to riders needs. I gave it some thought and proposed to my father that he should start his own charity tour that stood for a good cause and having fun along the way. My father has all the traits of a good organiser and leader. This is when The AWOL Tour idea sprouted. AWOL is “A Week Of Laughter” which was joined by the many individuals that used to go on the Tour Of Hope.

I have since participated in the first 2 AWOL tours and could not make the 2018 Tour due to education commitments and being in New Zealand.

Since doing these 3 tours, the bond between my father and I have grown stronger. The tour has taught me to be independent, considerate and self aware of the current situation of the world as we know is in. I believe and feel that people of my age should start getting more involved in the community, whether it be in the neighborhood or completely in the other side of the world. Events like this help bring one another closer to each other. It teaches people how push themselves at the lowest point of their life, breaking boundaries and most importantly, having fun at the same time. I love participating in the tour and I intend to take part in it as much as I can.

From the corporate perspective, the daily challenges are met with people who are resistant to change and when it struggles to find its Identity and have a Value system. With this a Corporation seeks out training programs and with team-building activities which as they say is a ‘short-term fix‘.

To create a lasting and definitive corporate culture with the identity and an ethos and belief system stems from passion and purpose. For this to happen, this must begin at the very top. Like me dragging Nathanael out on his 1st Tour did bring a value change and developed his character. The same would apply to any organisation where leaders show that they are willing to put themselves out and are willing to change themselves. Once this happens our people will follow suit and that is when we see corporate transformation.

Ernest Balasingam is the Senior Partner in Gibb & Co, Advocates & Solicitors and also the Managing Director of Back2Basics Consultants Sdn Bhd, a Human Resource, Soft-skills and Leadership Training Company who believes that life is not about re-inventing the wheel but keeping things simple.

Share This