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A date with my diary: An "aha" story to remind us to count our blessings

Leadership Reflections

What a privilege and honor it is to open minds, to help others discover their potential, and to achieve all this with The Leadership Challenge®. Apart from the obvious benefits users gain from The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model and research—such as the sheer simplicity of the process and Practices—hidden layers also can emerge, often quite unexpectedly.

Facilitating The Leadership Challenge frequently provides insights and experiences that are simply not possible to script. Take, for example, one recent group of 17 disparate individuals I worked with whose team was in shreds. Within this Saudi-based, family-run company there was a great divide between the new and the old with long-established barriers that helped ensure that the two would never meet or work together, let alone speak.

Sponsoring our The Leadership Challenge® Workshop was the company’s entrepreneurial CEO—the young, tuned-in, and curious son of the founder. Informed by the wisdom provided by a wise father and five years of ‘best-in-class’ business school learning, Ahmed had launched the company’s change agenda that was reaping millions in profits and was working to Inspire a Shared Vision of a more efficient and productive future. Yet one question plagued his conscience, a question that not one of the myriad of business professors ever provided a simple answer for: how can a leader build a positive, nurturing culture that breaks down barriers and brings people together to achieve one common goal? As it turns out, this young man found it in The Leadership Challenge.

I listened in awe during the workshop when Ahmed shared his aha moment: “We have new people, processes, and products yet I knew something was missing! I cannot believe I have just found the answer to creating something we can call our own, a culture we can all be part of. That will be possible when we introduce each of these 30 behaviors of The Leadership Challenge into everything we do. We will be joined as one! All of our operating manuals can then be stored on the ‘superfluous’ shelf.”

There are a number of fundamental and quite profound messages embedded in Ahmed’s aha experience worth exploring. They may not be from the chronicles of ‘best practice’ or winners of awards and accolades. Yet, I feel that their relevance transcends any and all of the above, revealing ‘basics’ that serve as a great reminder to all who wish to embark on a leadership journey with The Leadership Challenge:

1. The benefits gained from a CEO’s involvement in learning agendas
This client example serves as a wonderful reminder of the importance a leader brings to a team’s learning experience. The best facilitators engage from their own ‘known’, yet leaders have the most appropriate examples that will resonate with the team’s reality. They know what may be behind a participant’s question or response, can hone in on pain points and blind spots with subtlety while also assessing reactions and responses. They can reveal unspoken roadblocks without threat, and contextualize reasons for decisions and future pathways. Given that most CEO or senior executive leaders have also been ‘around the block’ a few times, the stories they share are invaluable case studies to embellish the practices. 

2. CEOs are busy; keep it simple for them to contextualize
The term ‘organizational culture’ can be just ‘woo-woo’ for some leaders. Terminology can confound, and cover real meaning and clarity by inviting misinterpretation. What was so great in this experience with Ahmed was that his aha moment came so effortlessly, enabling him to put it into words and communicate it in a way that made it relevant for others. His message was simple, not covered with jargon, and expressed his confidence and excitement. It’s with that excitement a CEO can give the team focus and hope, and help them to willingly buy into the future vision. Leading people to discovery and customized solutions is something that The Leadership Challenge does so well. 

3. Inclusion of relevant stories
The longer-term members of Ahmed’s group were very aware of his leadership journey. They had seen him venture off to Ivy League management schools several times, and witnessed his expanded horizons upon his return. Newer team members were constantly hearing others share his virtues. Yet, with the CEO actively participating in The Leadership Challenge experience, through the stories he shared these two disparate groups came together, gradually peeling back the layers so that everyone could feel his passion and priorities. When all were witness to his words, “I cannot believe I have just found the answer I’ve been seeking for five years”, they realized how much perseverance and passion truly means to his world. 

4. The workshop’s legacy as a pathway to the future
The unadulterated truth is that well after any facilitator or trainer has left the premise, leaders are often transformed and have the skills and passion to take their learning forward. In my experience, Ahmed had been transformed into a passionate facilitator and practitioner of The Five Practices who was now perfectly positioned to take on the role of leadership ambassador with zeal.
 
I like to count my blessings every now and then to balance the struggles. When I’m lucky enough to come face-to-face with leaders like Ahmed, I feel I’m repaid ten-fold. From one simple and humble workshop, Ahmed is now off creating a future of hope and transformation. What more can the world of leadership need?

Debbie Nicol is a newly-minted Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and founder of ‘business en motion’, a Global Training Partner of The Leadership Challenge. With change at its core, her business consultancy and learning organization moves businesses and leaders ahead through training, coaching, and consultancy services by applying change management, team, and learning methodologies. She can be reached at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com or at ‘business en motion’

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