Leadership Begins with Awareness - UWC ISAK Japan

Leadership Begins with Awareness

In this week’s Faculty Voices, Ms Tsurumi, coordinator of the leadership program at UWC ISAK Japan, examines the relationship between leadership and awareness.

When something doesn’t go your way, how do you respond?

Kick the door hard? Shout? Take a breath? Walk away and come back to it when you are more calm? As change makers, we can face numerous challenges – from having unexpected outcomes to well-intended plans, to not seeing eye-to-eye with our teammates, which at times may lead to conflicts.

One of the things we emphasize at UWC ISAK Japan is that leadership begins with awareness. For us, awareness is a space between something that happens to or around us: stimulus, and how we respond to these circumstances: response.


Stimulus can include situations and people we encounter in our lives, as well as emotions and thoughts that arise from these encounters. They can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and we have very little control over them. On the other hand, while we often do not realize this, we have full control over how we respond to the things that show up. As Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Cultivating Awareness

In the ‘Leading Self’ course at UWC ISAK Japan, we are currently learning to cultivate awareness, especially during challenging circumstances. This is because it is during challenging situations that we often forget that we have a choice in our response, which can lead us to respond unpurposefully and unhelpfully by arguing, blaming, complaining, etc. With our awareness – the space between stimulus and response, we ask our students to notice and bring their attention to:

  • What is happening?
  • How do I feel? What are my thoughts?
  • What’s important and what’s needed?

Through this process, we ask each member of our community to check in with what is important and needed for us and our community, so that our actions are purposeful, and help to create positive change within ourselves and the community at large.

During our journey in the ‘Leading Self’ course, I have asked students how cultivating awareness connects to leadership. Some of their responses were:

  • It (cultivating awareness) helps me be a better listener for my friends by being more present and paying attention to them
  • It helps me stay focused on the end goal of a long-term project, even when the journey is arduous
  • It helps me become more aware of the experiences of my teammates so I can find ways to work more effectively with them
  • It helps me recognize more clearly my feelings, thoughts and experiences so I can understand how they are affecting me and people around me, especially when I am in a position to lead

It is clear that students are making meaningful connections in their own ways through this pursuit.

So next time when things don’t go our way, I invite all of us to take a deep breath and ask ourselves, “What is important and needed in this situation?” and take a step to respond purposefully.

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5827-136 Nagakura
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