How My Captain Helped Me
Some time last year, I came across in my LinkedIn news feed a post on the differences between a boss and a leader that an acquaintance had posted. The differences are:
|Relies on authority||Relies on goodwill|
|Issues ultimatum||Generates enthusiasm|
|Says "I"||Says "We"|
|Uses people||Develops people|
|Takes credit||Gives credit|
And when I thought of a friend who exhibits those distinguishing qualities of a leader, the one who first popped up in my mind was Stephen Lenai - the sensible classmate of mine at Starehe Boys' Centre who, as I have told you, served as my house captain when I was in Fourth Form and in the institute of the school. Okay, let me amplify my point.
For all the time I got to know Lenai since we met in Form 1 at Starehe in 2002, he never said anything negative to me like the way some people did when they commented of how confused I look. Instead, he was an encouraging buddy who sometimes tried to draw out the best in me.
Like I recall during one lunch session in 2005 when we were in Form Four, he called me aside in the dining hall and asked me to be controlling my temper. Believe you me, I sometimes used to erupt violently like a volcano.
Then on our first days in Starehe Institute in 2006, he requested me to be attending the 6.00pm roll-call after I missed it for several days when I reported back to the school for my college education. (Note that I have said he requested, not commanded.)
You see, I felt lonely on our first days in Starehe Institute because my efforts to get a job had borne no fruits and some of my classmates in high school had left the centre. But thanks to Lenai who encouraged me to be attending roll-calls, I eventually felt at home in Starehe Institute where I acquired a transformative Diploma in Information Technology.
And later on during our time in the institute, Lenai used to sometimes ask me to address our house-mates during the 6.00pm roll-calls. It seems to me now that while some school-mates at Starehe saw confusion in me, Lenai saw potential.
There was one Sunday roll-call in 2006 that I will mention here because of how delighted I felt after addressing my house-mates. It was a day before the junior boys of that year began their end-of-year exams and fourth-formers, their final high school exams known as KCSE.
Just before the roll-call began, I had instinctively sensed Lenai would ask me to speak. So to prepare for my address, I wore a winter-coat I loved to wear because it made me look like an American president in a winter inauguration ceremony. And my instincts turned out to be right because Lenai did ask me to speak. Guess what I said?
Well, I just encouraged the junior boys not to despair because they still had plenty of time for improvement. But as for the fourth-formers, I was honest with them not to expect any miracle in their KCSE results if they hadn't been studying well. And when I asked my house-mates whether miracles still happen, some shouted back they still do.
That night, I felt delighted and pleased with myself for the short address I had delivered to my house-mates. Lenai had made my day.
As I reflect on my life since then, I have discovered such a recurring feeling of delight whenever I have done something creative. Like I felt on cloud nine some time in 2012 when I single-handedly created a website for my high school class.
From such kind of uplifting experiences, I would advise youngsters out there to likewise find something creative to be doing - something that will give them a feeling of achievement. It's a far much better and healthier way of feeling high than taking drugs.
Coming back to my story on Stephen Lenai, I shall always remain grateful to him for allowing me to break the rules by sneaking out of Starehe early in the morning on Sundays to be with my home-town Catholic Church youth group when we were in the institute. You see, nothing much used to happen in the school on Sundays. We were just expected to wake up at 7.00am, have breakfast and attend a mandatory church service after which we were free to do whatever we wished.
Looking back, I am thinking Lenai never minded my sneaking out on Sundays because I was always back to the school for the 6.00pm roll-call. But I am sure if some people I know had been my house captain, they would have created hell for me by forwarding me to the school administration for sneaking out. Oh, how I thank God that Lenai was my house captain! He truly was a leader, not a boss.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on how my captain helped me, you might also enjoy another on a model for servant leadership in which I have mentioned some other two high school classmates of mine. Just click on that link in blue to jump straight into the story.
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Musings on 'Amazing Grace'
As I pen this story of mine, I am listening to the Amazing Grace hymn which I have played and recorded on my Yamaha piano keyboard (see photo above). I have played it using a harmony I was taught by my friend Francis Kariuki in December 2004 during our teenage days. Somehow, I have managed to remember the harmony over the years.
Allow me, my dear reader, to briefly tell you about me and Francis Kariuki and how we came to be friends.
I first started learning piano when I was 9 at Kiserian Catholic Parish way back in 1997. (That was the year when Mother Teresa - the much adored nun who helped the poor in Calcutta, India - passed on at a good old age of 87.) I continued honing my skills on the instrument at the parish over the next several years because we didn't own a piano at home or at school.
Then in the year 2000, Francis Kariuki joined me as part of the group of youngsters that were receiving Music lessons at the parish. That's when I met and befriended him. And by then, I had already had about three years of experience in playing the piano, or to be more precise, an electric keyboard.
I think Francis and I became good friends because we were pretty much on the same wavelength in that we both valued discipline and academic excellence. And as a buddy, I introduced him later on in the year to Prof. Charles Nyamiti, a talented priest then stationed at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) in Lang'ata, Nairobi.
Some time beginning in 2002 when I was away at Starehe Boys' Centre for my high school education, Francis became a piano student of Prof. Charles Nyamiti. It was in some of those lessons that Prof. Nyamiti taught him how to play the Amazing Grace hymn on the piano.
Then on December 2004 when I was on a school holiday, Francis showed off to me how to play that hymn as Prof. Nyamiti had taught him. I instantly loved its harmony and pleaded with him to teach me as well. He obliged.
As you can see from my story so far, I introduced Francis to Prof. Nyamiti in the year 2000 and he in turn taught me later on in 2004 how to play the Amazing Grace hymn on the piano as he had been taught by Prof. Nyamiti. I think that was a good exchange.
Then in 2005 when I was in Fourth Form at Starehe Boys' Centre, I showed off the harmony of Amazing Grace that Francis had taught me to Mr. Matthew Brooks - a talented young man from England who was then volunteering as a Music teacher in the school. I lied to Mr. Brooks that I had come up with the harmony. And after he listened to it, he remarked, "That's a good harmony!"
Now, Amazing Grace is an old hymn. It was composed in 1779 by John Newton. A very old hymn indeed. Very old. Yet ever new.
Let's look at its first verse which goes as follows:
I came to like that verse when I was a young man of 20 years. That was a decade ago. I even quoted it in an essay I had been asked to write in an evangelism course I was pursuing then at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi - an excellent church I joined after I left Starehe in 2007.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
But imagine I have lately been realizing how lost I have been for the last ten years! For how else can you explain that I am still a foot-loose and fancy-free young man still living with his mother in Kiserian.
Yes, I have for the last ten years been lost for shizzle. Like I rebelled against my family when I was at the university in JKUAT where I ignominiously dropped out in 2008 in my second-year. I rebelled partly because the engineering course I was pursuing at the university turned out to be Greek to me. And as I pointed out in a previous story in this lovely blog of mine, that course was actually like learning Greek because it made extensive use of the Greek alphabets: from alpha to omega.
From that experience, I would advise any youngster out there about to matriculate at the university not to choose a degree course just because it is considered prestigious and marketable, but to instead select one they have a talent for. Why pursue Medicine & Surgery if the mere sight of blood makes you cringe in terror?
Coming back to my life story, I also rebelled again when I was a first-year student at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in 2011. But this time, I partly did so because of the frustrations I experienced while trying to fund-raise tuition fees since unlike when I was JKUAT a few years earlier, I wasn't on a government scholarship at UoN.
Besides becoming rebellious, there are several other ways I have been lost and wretched as the Amazing Grace hymn puts it. Like I have been timid on many occasions, hanged out with the wrong fellows as well as offered free services while languishing in want.
Can you now see why I am saying Amazing Grace is an old hymn yet ever new? I beseech you to also examine your life. And don't feel guilty and ashamed if you become thunderstruck by how lost and wretched you have been. Adieu!