I recently had the privilege of conducting The Leadership Challenge® Workshop for SAS Mexico. SAS Mexico is a subsidiary of the parent company based in the United States and, as such, is a fully independent group. The president of the group, Jose Luis Sanchez, is a past client and had requested the Workshop for his management staff as well as other key positions. Most of the participants hold customer-facing positions within the company and some work on cross-functional teams focused on selling software solutions.
Sanchez had chosen leadership development to serve as a foundational piece of their business plan. He strongly believed that each and every member of his team had something valuable to contribute to the success of the company, and he wanted that "something special" surfaced and put to work. Using The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, we anticipated that each member of the class would be able to explore and then articulate the things they could do to lead from their position. Neither of us anticipated that the Workshop would cause a big shift in their thinking. We were wrong. The Five Practices model enabled learning at a much broader and deeper level than was expected by all parties connected with the class: the participants, the president, and me.
I arrived a day early to set up class and prepare. Mr. Sanchez and I met so we could go over his opening remarks as well as his thoughts about the dynamics of the group-who would sit with who, who would talk the most, who I might need to draw out, etc. At the end of the first day of the Workshop he told me that he was hearing lots of feedback...and all of it was enthusiastic. He had anticipated that there would be push back from several in the group; this was the first assumption that didn't hold true. Assumption number two was that the ones he anticipated would be withdrawn were not. Assumption number three was that they would be prone to working in specific groups. As is often the case, when we mixed them up, they continued to be equally engaged.
During the debrief at the end of the class, I mentioned these assumptions to the group and asked for their thoughts. They told me that the class had allowed them hear the original thoughts and ideas of people whom with they normally only experienced one type of role-centered conversation. During the class they gained the insight that each member of this team had unique values, a vision for how things could be, and ideas about the challenges they might face. They said that sharing these things enabled them to see each other in a new light which was sparking lots of ideas and making them feel more like a team. I asked, "Have you not felt like a team before?" There was a pause then one woman raised her hand. "You need to understand that in our culture we have been raised to defer to leaders and authority. Since we were children we have been told to hold our tongues when a leader speaks, to be good followers. The Five Practices model has shown us that we can be good followers and good leaders at the same time, and that it is our responsibility to do so." This shift enabled them to commit to President Sanchez's request to "develop yourselves as leaders to help us continue to develop as a company."
Sharing The Five Practices model in that Mexico City class provided a rich learning experience for all of us. The participants gained a fundamental understanding of the expectations and confidence their leader had for them. They felt enabled by that and by the discovery of new dimensions of their co-workers, representing additional resources available to them. The president learned that his vision of having his team be a strong group of leaders was sound. The Five Practices model aligned well with his favorite sports metaphor: "When you are on a team, you need to be ready to step up when someone passes you the ball." I discovered that the true power of The Five Practices model is in helping individuals and teams, in any culture, reveal the capacity they have as leaders. How it happens may differ from culture to culture, but the possibilities are there to be discovered.