It’s a Convention, Really

by Jervan Khou

The audience paying rapt attention to guest speaker Mr Thaddeus Lawrence

It is indeed a privilege to be granted the opportunity as a leader of an external CCA to participate in this year’s CCAL Conference. Perhaps this revelation would deny me the right to give my honest, but perhaps sobering, report of this slightly jejune event, but I am going to try anyway.

The annual ‘conference’, organized by the teachers in the PE department (whom we all ought to thank for their hard work), involved all the CCA Leaders in Year 5–6. The budding leaders were engaged by three different keynote speakers, who touched on pet topics they were passionate about. CCALs were also given the opportunity to sign up for hour-long workshops which took place between the talks. These were intended to allow them to gain more insights about different aspects of leadership.

In this sense, the event was not so much of a conference, but a general convention of leaders centered on the concept of leadership. But before you take it upon yourselves to accuse me of quibbling or splitting hairs, pray let me elaborate.

A significant portion of the time we had was devoted to the three keynote addresses, one for the start, middle and end. In short, they all spoke about their life experiences, taking upon really amazing feats and challenges like the Four Deserts Races, surviving SQ 006, the Singapore Airlines flight that crashed in 2000, and the US Army Ranger course. They spoke about their convictions,  and their sources of motivation through adversity. In addition, they showed how those present could apply similar traits of leadership in their lives.

Yet, there were times when Mr Cyrano Latiff, the co-pilot of SQ006, had insights that were the complete opposite of those of Mr Thaddeus Lawrence, endurance marathoner, which were sometimes entirely different from what the death-defying Mr Lien Choon Luen had to share . For example, Mr Latiff stressed the importance of planning and calculation when taking action, while Mr Lawrence and Mr Lien held the conviction that spontaneity was key to personal leadership. While one might argue that this arrangement provides a broad spectrum of ideas and views for us CCALs to take in, I’m not sure if this was actually the original intention. I just had the feeling that each speaker had so much more to share, and restricting their speech to the domain of leadership wasn’t doing them much justice. There you have it – three tangentially-related talks didn’t make much of a conference, but it was a jolly good convention, where all views (or at least, those coming the guest  speakers) were welcome.

That being said, the team who took the time and effort to seek out these three inspiring speakers deserved much more commendation and acknowledgment . I have to say that without the timely humorous interjections from the speakers, it would have been a far more cheerless morning, given that it was right after the Promotional Examinations.

Unless, of course, you considered the workshops. It may have been the more homely atmosphere of a classroom, or the latitude for debate that encouraged us to actively engage in discussions about the nature of leadership. One particular seminar that I participated in, titled “The Finer Aspects of Leadership” not only enabled pro-establishment and contrarian views to clash in public, but also, through a very interesting course plan, enabled us to raise several issues and pose several questions that neither side thought of at the outset of the session. It was sessions like this that made the event more meaningful.

And that brings me back to my original point. Yes, the speakers were extremely well-sourced and well-prepared, and they shared remarkably candid personal stories. Yes, the workshops were eye-opening and engaging. Still, despite the immense amount of effort put into planning each segment with positive results, the conference itself was good, not great . It’s a bit like Shanghai, if you care for metaphors. Shanghai is a modern metropolis with well-developed roads and spectacular skyscrapers. It is the world’s busiest port and one of the world’s most populated cities. But Shanghai isn’t a place that you leave thinking, “This city changed my life, I want to stay here forever”. The same goes for this CCAL conference. The “oomph” factor that would have been the icing on the cake was (regrettably) missing.

Perhaps the best conclusion to draw is that leadership skills are not gained as a consequence of attending many conferences and workshops. Some may go so far as to say that leadership conferences only provide ideas at their best. Although this conference was undeniably effective in generating many ideas, it ultimately left participants to grope through the competing viewpoints and devise their own synthesis.

One thought on “It’s a Convention, Really”

  1. “Although this conference was undeniably effective in generating many ideas, it ultimately left participants to grope through the competing viewpoints and devise their own synthesis.” The alternative, I take it, would have been to promote a particular brand – or synthesis – of leadership throughout the conference, and in so doing make it more coherent, if not more palatable?

    I’m no establishment cutout (as you know), and I can’t say that my CCAL conference experience (which was planned in much the same way) had any more “oomph” than yours, but on this point I have to agree with the planners – the “broad spectrum of ideas and views for us CCALs to take in” should, I think, be encouraged. I believe, after all, that leadership involves choice and adaptation, and the best way to practice that (even if in the slightly arid context of CCAL conference) is to expose oneself to a range of practical leadership styles, and pick the one that best fits your task.

    Neither spontaneity nor micromanagement, for example, are surefire tools. For a sports captain, perhaps, thinking on one’s feet on the pitch is essential; for a theater director every last artistic detail must be in place. The CCAL conference, even if not stellar, has this key advantage: providing a palette for intelligent leaders to make intelligent choices for themselves.

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