A: I have always included this exercise when I facilitated The Leadership Challenge® Workshop and sometimes would ask myself that same question. It seemed like a nice way to open the group up and share past successes, but was it truly a critical leverage point to entering the content of The Leadership Challenge? In the past, workshop participants would bring a “personal best story” to share on Day One and explore in small groups how they and their group partners showed up as leaders. We then would come back together as a large group to discuss the highlights before moving on to the next piece of content in the workshop.
In my work throughout this past year, I have come to realize that I was missing a very important piece of this exercise—a nuance that can connect participants to the content of The Leadership Challenge from the start of Day One. What piece did I skip? Asking the group to take their discussions one step further, to discuss the behavior themes they noticed in their personal best stories and linking them explicitly to The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.
Now when I facilitate this exercise, the small groups discuss those behavior themes, write them on a sheet of flip chart paper, and share their findings with the larger group. The large group debrief of the exercise then centers around the commonality of the groups’ behavior themes and how they link to The Five Practices. Often, participants will make the connection themselves. If this doesn’t happen explicitly, I will “prime the pump” by sharing a connection or two that I see and then ask for their thoughts.
While using the Personal Best Leadership Experience exercise is an important way of getting participants thinking about themselves as leaders, it is even more useful as a critical lens to help participants quickly see the direct connection between the behaviors or actions they described in their stories to The Five Practices. The details of the individual’s personal experience are what enable him or her to connect to the Practices in an authentic way—not because the authors say so or because the research data and experiences of other leaders say so. Instead, participants make the connection because they are able to see that they have already engaged in some or all of the Practices in recounting what they were doing when they were at their best as leaders.
An added Bonus: I find that the sooner participants realize this connection between their “personal best” behaviors and The Five Practices, the sooner they can then link with one of The Leadership Challenge’s most important guiding principles: leadership is a choice. This shifts the participant’s mindset away from “Can I do X?” (of course, they can do the behavior because they did it in their Personal Best Story) to “Will I do X?” (an intentional choice on their part as a leader).
Missy Makanui is Director of Leadership Development for SAS, a large privately-held software company and a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge. She has been teaching and consulting at the university and corporate levels for 25 years and has been using The Leadership Challenge and the Leadership Practices Inventory® in her work since 2003. As a coach, facilitator, and business consultant, Missy uses her expertise to assist her clients in defining objectives, identifying obstacles, and creating paths to achieving business results. She can be reached at email@example.com.