Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Ah Boys to Men 2



Following the box office success of Ah Boys to Men, local filmmaker Jack Neo's Ah Boys to Men 2 has scaled new heights as the top grossing local film of all time. Based on the exploits of Recruit Ken Chow (Joshua Tan) and his platoon mates Wayang King (Maxi Lim), Lobang (Wang Weiliang) and I P Man (Noah Yap), the movie is filled with laugh-a-minute moments infused with patriotic messages about what it means to defend our country.

As a rite-of-passage comedy, Ah Boys to Men 2 resonated with most of its audiences. Male Singaporean who have tasted National Service (or are currently full-time NSFs) would appreciate the hair raising scenarios faced by the madcap recruits. The liberal use of Hokkien - the lingua franca of the army - strikes a chord with locals. There is also good chemistry between the leads.

The focus of this post, however, is on its breakout character Lobang. He is probably the talked about character (thanks to getai singer Weiliang's natural talent). What triggered my attention was how Lobang managed to be selected for OCS (Officer Cadet School for the most promising recruits) despite being the "hokkien peng" and "pai kia" (bad hat) in the platoon.

How could a lowly recruit who broke army regulations repeatedly end up becoming selected as a possible leader amongst men? Let me attempt to dissect this role.

For a start, Lobang displayed empathy for his colleagues. Unlike the "siao-on" Wayang King who insisted on following rules to a T, Lobang knew that it was important to address the concerns of his fellow platoon mates. He did this despite knowing that the consequences could be severe.

This brings us to the next quality - risk taking. Leadership of any form involves breaking new ground. Lobang risked being severely punished by bringing an iPad (with a camera) into camp, but he did it so that he could help I P Man get back at his girlfriend who deserted him.

Lobang also showcased leadership by example. He did not just direct others to do something which he wouldn't do himself. In fact, he placed himself in equal danger to the others and confessed to his crime when he couldn't hide them anymore. 

Paying attention to operational details is also vital in good leaders. When planning to "ambush" I P Man's nemesis, Lobang plotted how the motley crew should disguise themselves, limit the movement of their quarry, and escape in an urban environment. While their efforts came to a painful end, you couldn't help admiring how the deed was done.

Charisma is another important virtue amongst leaders. As I watched both parts 1 and 2 of the movie, it was clear to me that Lobang was going to be the breakout role. Somehow or other, one couldn't help liking this character despite his warts and all.

Being entrepreneurial is also key amongst leaders. Throughout both movies, Lobang was always the solution provider to the problems faced by his colleagues. He had an incredible ability to smuggle in items to the camp (like bak kwa), and also knew that fully-charged handphone batteries had a good market within the camp.

A leader must also be brave and Lobang exhibited this in spade-loads. Other than the ambush attempt, he repeatedly though to ways to outwit and outsmart the system despite knowing the grave consequences if he was caught.

Finally, a leader needs to care for his/her men. While his habit of smuggling in "bak kwa" (pork jerky) and cigarettes isn't approved by the commanders, Lobang knew that these little perks could help raise the morale of his fellow platoon mates.

Whether by accident or design, the portrayal of Lobang in Ah Boys to Men 2 shows that one can lead without a title nor position. Leadership is embodied in how one behaves and what one does more than in following a set of strict rules and regulations. It is also about working well with people from diverse backgrounds and motivating people to achieve a common goal.

Having said that, do note that I'm not advocating that we should break rules flagrantly like Lobang - especially in the army! You could get into a lot of serious trouble, and real life may not be as forgiving as reel life. However, there are leadership lessons that we can learn from this local blockbuster.  

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