Sunday, September 14, 2008

Leading into leadership – the Presec years

My senior secondary (high school) experience in Presec constitutes some of the best years in my life. My leadership journey continued. I didn’t get any ‘would you run for president’ questions there but I got similar questions about leadership. Here, I was in a boy’s school, separate from the ‘distractions’ that girls could be and in an environment where you had to be of your best behavior. Being of your best behavior may help shape your leadership abilities, but it is not the only trait or factor in leadership. I didn’t have all these traits in Presec and though I may have gained some, I may still not be the finished product. Writing the first entry about leading into leadership was nice, so we get to do it twice.

I chose to go to Presec because it is an excellent school and I also wanted to get away from my parents. I wanted to become more independent and get the chance to ‘live a little’. I wouldn’t go to a Cape Coast school because I didn’t know any relatives there and I had to be in a place where I could access great home-cooked food. Yes, my burning desire for free food started early. Besides, 7 of my JSS mates were going to Presec and coupled with the fact that all the top students were doing ‘Science’, I fell to peer pressure. I really wanted to do General Arts, but I succumbed to popular opinion. Doing Science hasn’t turned out to be a bad option, but I fell for the popular choice, which may not necessarily have been the best choice, for me. Now that is not what I want my leader to do, but I did it. Spare me, I was just a teenager.

Being a ‘homo’, ‘nino’ or first year boy in a Ghanaian boys’ boarding school is hard. I was part of the labor force, we did every work imaginable. When you are a servant, there isn’t much of an opportunity to lead or even influence. You are more concerned with ‘sucking up’ to your seniors or bribing them with ‘cash or kind’ so you will live a peaceful life. I wasn’t going to have any of that. My parents worked too hard to get me these sardines, shito, milo, and other provisions for seniors to ‘command’ and ‘bully’ them from me. I was seen as stingy and suffered for it. Call it insubordination, call it courage, call it miserliness, call it ‘chisel’, I call it rebellion aka positive defiance.

I was fortunate enough to be quite smart in Presec. I began winning quizzes over my seniors and wowing people with my smarts. This won me a few friends but I didn’t guarantee me free passes when it came to ‘bullying’ and discipline. I also got involved in a number of clubs, prominent among them were the Editorial Board and the Quiz, Writers and Debaters Club. I was still seen as a ‘soft’ boy and stingy. I couldn’t do the hard jobs like scrubbing so I was constantly assigned to the ‘doma’. Yes, my superiors found it prudent to give me the job of cleaning up the toilets that would never flush, that smelled like ‘you know’ and the job for which there were no ‘tools’.

Being on the Presec Editorial Board was the most prestigious thing for any Presec junior (form 1 or 2). You had to be able to write pretty well, but you had to be neat, respected, respectful and generally ‘not a bad boy’. To finally get onto the board, you had to go through the most vigorous vetting exercises known to man, it could scare you away from pursuing the positions. I had to become neater to pursue this, keep three handkerchiefs at all times instead of two, walk ‘well’ enough not to get my shoes and clothes dusty, start doing favors for my superiors and be of my best behavior. I was good enough to make the board, I was probably one of the more popular guys but I couldn’t earn the topmost position. I was made an Assistant Managing Editor. Later, I heard, I didn’t get the position because I wasn’t ‘mean enough’, not ‘hard’ and probably couldn’t order people around. Read it as soft, read it as second banana, read it as being a follower, in my book, I just was not the bossy type.

Presec is a school where the seniors and the juniors are in warfare due to the way the former treats the latter. A junior’s worst enemy is a prefect (student government). Luckily, the junior has a Students Representative Council (SRC) to fight for his rights when he has been found guilty or is being treated unfairly. The juniors loved the SRC and the seniors loved the prefectorial council. The two were like political parties with the prefects being the incumbent party. When I was in Form 2, the SRC somehow sided with the prefects too many times and had formed a ‘union government’. Who was going to stand up for the juniors now? We, my colleagues and I, of the Editorial Board, aka Presec Media, would stand up. Our motto was “The pen is mightier than the sword”. We went to work, writing some ‘articles’ about how the prefects and SRC were being unfair. We caught the wrath of both parties, and were to face ‘consequences’. We were humiliated at the dining hall, etc. Most of the Editorial Board before us were prefects or SRC members, so they were not happy with the developments and to them, heads had to roll. Heads rolled alright, and there was a shakeup in our board. I kept my position, my senior managing editor was demoted and someone ‘jumped’ me. Must be me again, I couldn’t be entrusted with leading.

When we were entering our final year, most of my mates wanted to be prefects. By this time in my life, I wasn’t going to run away from responsibility but I just didn’t think I wanted to be a prefect. It wasn’t a priority. I was encouraged to run for the protocol prefect position because I was an automatic choice. I wasn’t going to run for senior prefect, because I was behind in the hierarchy, other students had set their sights on the position since they stepped in Presec and worked every other day to be in the running for the highest office in the land. They had been neat, they had ironed their dresses so well the edges could cut tree branches, they had given away food when seniors bullied them, they had stayed out of trouble and this was to be their reward. When they were being flowed ‘spe’, they kept their cool, they didn’t ‘strike’, they ‘posed’ so as not to be seen as hungry boarding school students, they had played their cards right. As for me, I could care less, and if you cared less, you couldn’t be given such responsibility.

Running for prefectorial positions in Presec was fun. People memorized famous quotes to mesmerize voters, we learnt Latin sayings so we could show we were intellectual, we started to follow every rule in the ‘green book to the letter. If you signed your life away to the aspiration season and you ended up being shocked, you could be ridiculed for the rest of your ‘days’ in Presec. I run for the Protocol prefect position and endured all the crazy vetting procedures. The day of reckoning arrived and everyone was giddy and anxious as to see who would be elected and who would be shocked. I had been assured the position was mine but there was one twist, I had refused a kingmaker a bottle of Malta Guinness some days before.

You guessed right. When the names were mentioned, I was ‘shocked’. They actually passed me over for a position ‘everyone’ said I was guaranteed to get. I cried, I kid you not. When the guy I was supposed to succeed heard of this, he said it was a mistake and quickly, I was re-instituted. It was a whirlwind turn of events but at least, someone was able to entrust some responsibility into my hands. I knew I could do the job and I was willing to be better than my predecessor.

I was a good protocol prefect. My job was to organize and lead Presec delegations to events outside of school, organize and oversee major events in Presec and be the guardian of all clubs and societies in the school. In no time, I was everywhere. I may have been the busiest student in the school coupled with my responsibilities on the Editorial Board and other places. I did an admirable job but my academics suffered a little. You could say I performed poorly in my ‘leadership’ position because other duties suffered, I couldn’t handle and excel in all I needed to do. Of course, I didn’t need people to point this out to me, so I studied really hard for my final exams and did remarkably well. The end does justify the means.

Being protocol prefect allowed me to interact with a lot of people – dignitaries, girls, teachers, etc. It helped my organizational and social skills. It may have been the best thing to happen to me in Presec. I was an ambassador and the interior minister. It may not be the president, but it begs for leadership as well. A leader is supposed to have good time management skills, excellent priorities, good decision making and great multi-tasking. Maybe I was unable to do these in my teen years, but it was something I had to be able to do as I grew up. Did I get better at it? We’ll find out in the next installments.
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