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Put on the spot during a visit to Cambodia, I realized the importance of being equipped, engaged and inspired

I sat there on the stage in my borrowed dress shoes, dress socks, dress pants, dress belt, dress shirt and tie. I wasn’t prepared. I had no idea I would be doing this—it was a total surprise. While the provincial premier gave his speech, I feverishly tried to get my thoughts together. It was no use listening to what he was saying; given my complete lack of experience with the Cambodian language, I couldn’t understand a thing.

I was visiting Cambodia as board chair of Kelowna-based non-profit Hope for the Nations. The executive director of one of our partner organizations was touring me, our founder and a supporter through several projects benefiting remote Khmer Rouge villages, orphans and children rescued from sex slavery. 

Unbeknownst to us, our partner had been working with the Ministry of Education to deliver a program to public school teachers aimed at helping them understand the drawbacks of using violence for classroom management. We were now attending the graduation ceremony of 400 teachers who had completed the training. Invited to share the stage with the premier, the minister of education and other dignitaries, I was also asked to deliver a brief speech through an interpreter. 

So there I sat feeling very uncomfortable in my borrowed clothes, wondering what on earth I could share with teachers—leaders—from a completely different culture. It would have to be extremely simple so as not to get lost in translation, yet profound enough to help them in their role as stewards of Cambodia’s future. After offering some encouraging words, I outlined what I believe to be the three critical roles of a teacher:

  1. Equip the mind
  2. Engage the heart
  3. Inspire the child

It went over well—as far as I could tell, anyway, having little or no knowledge of my hosts’ language or culture. My remarks seemed to resonate with the education minister. During his speech, he turned to me and made three points, each time holding up a finger: “One, two, three…” Either he was repeating my three critical roles of a teacher, or he was warning me that three strikes and I’d be out of the country.

Reflecting on that experience, I believe those three roles represent not only what great teachers would strive for but also the essential qualities of a wholehearted leader.

Let’s filter whatever situation you may be in as a leader right now through these lenses: Would those you lead benefit from being equipped, engaged and inspired? I’m guessing the answer is yes.

Too often as leaders, we seek to simply equip people to do their job better. To be more efficient and more effective. We bypass the heart—our deepest place of conviction, commitment, passion, purpose, identity and life—to teach or equip people to work better. However, if we can engage the heart, we unlock the most powerful part of a person. You see, our most valuable asset is not our skills, abilities, gifts or experience—it’s our heart.

And the only road to deep-seated, life-changing, ain’t-no-stoppin’-us-now inspiration is through the heart. You don’t inspire people just by equipping their minds; you must also engage their hearts. A truly great leader—a wholehearted leader—inspires others by doing both. That’s no easy task, but it isn’t as difficult as you might think.

The key to inspiring others is to first ensure that we as leaders are contagiously inspired when it comes to making a difference in the lives of the people we lead. We are engaged at a heart level and equipped with the knowledge we need.

Yes, the three critical roles of a leader are to equip the mind, engage the heart and inspire the person. That is a wholehearted leader.

David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as chair of The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada. David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at david@wholeheartedleaders.com