The Super Bowl, the biggest night of American sports, is the annual spectacle where everything is done on a grand scale.
Approximately 130 million people watch the game. It is the second-largest day for US food consumption. Advertisers pay upwards of $3 million for a 30-second TV spot. Multinationals compete for the smartest and wittiest commercials. Madonna performs at halftime. It is one of America’s biggest parties of the year.
The Super Bowl is but one example that sports in general, and team sports in particular, are an integral part of American life. Athletes are heroes and many young people aspire to be the next Tom Brady, Joe Montana, or Michael Jordan. Children, especially boys, are trained to play and appreciate sports from a young age. Many families deem sports an important extracurricular activity in addition to traditional academic activities such as reading, math, and science.
For the very small number of children fortunate enough to have enormous talent and physical ability, it is a way to make it to college and, hopefully, to the pros. For the majority of kids who do not have what it takes to make it to the big leagues, the experience of having played team sports builds confidence and instills leadership lessons.
To succeed in sports, one must be competitive, disciplined, strong, agile, strategic, communicative, and collaborative. The highest highs of winning and the lowest lows of losing build one’s character. To marshal resources, strong will and teamwork to win are critical. To be humble when winning and gracious when losing is good sportsmanship.
This appreciation for leadership is something that may be missing from many educational systems in Asia, and in Indonesia in particular. Indonesian parents and educational systems traditionally overemphasize academics at the expense of leadership-building activities. Some may even view sports and other creative endeavors as unnecessary frivolity. This is understandable because Indonesian culture values academics as a means toward upward mobility.
Do well in school, get into a good university and graduate to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, the saying goes. Indonesian society does not reward athletes the way American or European societies do. Moreover, since it is hard to make it to the pros anyway, one is better off focusing on academics, the reasoning goes.
Not only does the Indonesian educational system overemphasize academics, it also overemphasizes a certain way of learning – rote memorization instead of fundamental conceptual understanding.
While rote memorization instills discipline, it pales in comparison to the creative learning that can produce innovation. Someone who only memorizes and practices how to solve thousands of problem sets is unlikely to be able to extrapolate the knowledge in novel situations. Someone who has never been involved in a team environment is unlikely to know how to inspire and energize others.
This system may have worked in the past, but as globalization continues, Indonesian human capital will have to compete on a higher level. To build a country that can produce transformative leaders, Indonesia will need to instill vision, passion, decisiveness, conviction, integrity, adaptability, emotional toughness, and humility in its educational system.
Former General Electric chief executive Jack Welch once said, “You may be a great manager, but unless you can energize others, you are of no value as a leader.” Energizing others is at the core of leadership in the globalized economy and Indonesia should integrate this quality into its educational system.
Sonita Lontoh is a green technology executive in Silicon Valley. She is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley and the Kellogg School of Management.