Agile transformation – our experience at MDI

Agile transformation – our experience at MDI

The whole agile leadership idea is based on the observation, that accelerated change is the norm. What does that mean for change management? The classical concepts of Kübler-Ross (change curve) and Kotter (8 steps model) are still a good inspiration to describe what happens in change and what to do, but perhaps not sufficient to deal with agile transformation.

Agile transformation usually means that a whole company or business unit is becoming agile. Many companies are striving for that. There are 2 main approaches: Big bang and incremental.

Paypal is an example for a successful big bang transformation moving 510 cross-functional teams from waterfall to agile within less than a year. They moved from project-driven to product-line discipline in order to develop clear accountability and intense customer focus. Productivity and profitability rose significantly.

Most companies go for incremental, which can also work fine. It depends on how big is the urge for change and on the organizational interdependencies. If e.g. agile teams depend on waterfall teams and the delivery does not work smoothly, it might be better to change the approach in the whole business unit at the same time. Incremental is already an agile principle and it is better to start somewhere in the organization than to postpone to a future far away.

As I only want to write about things, that I have personal experience with, I want to share our own agile transformation story. I am the CEO of MDI – Management Development International. MDI provides leadership development solutions. In 2016 we have been invited to support the implementation of OKR (objectives and key results) in an international top brand company with approx. 300.000 employees. We decided to introduce OKR to our own company with about 40 employees and 150 freelance trainers first.

This was like a domino stone falling and generating a chain reaction. We decided to also implement a rolling budget, changed to a customer-centric team structure, adjusted our mission and vision statement and started to try out one agile method after the other. Some stayed one time experiences and others became routine and part of the company DNA.

After a while, we thought it would be helpful to have an overview of what we are doing in which areas, in order to develop in a balanced way. Being inspired by the Story map of HR Pioneers*, we visualized a “Change journey map”:

Agile transformation at MDI

This Change journey also helps to

  • become aware of the progress in the phases of agile transformation and motivates to continue
  • find the right balance between day to day business and investment in the agile transformation
  • decide what you want to try out once and what you want to make a routine.

We are aware, that there is a long way to go for us and that there will never be an end, as the digital evolution continues to speed up. But the Change journey overview helps to be in the frontline of digital disruption.

*Informatik aktuell Sept 2017, Hendericks

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Many of today’s leaders are asking themselves the question of meaning: Why do I do what I am doing? What do I contribute and what is the point of all of this? In a time where the speed of change is enormous and nothing seems to be permanent, it is only natural to deal with such issues. Companies can help their leaders and leaders can empower their employees to find meaning and simultaneously encourage their engagement for the job.

Anita Berger about Purpose and Engagement in digital times
About the author

Anita Berger is MDI Managing Partner and accompanies organizations internationally and from all sectors as a consultant in organizational development, as a management trainer and coach, for many years already. She is an expert when it comes to engagement and motivation 3.0. As a certified trainer, she offers the Original Drive Workshop after Daniel H. Pink, which is also a module of the Agile Leadership certification course.

Being an agile leader – be mobile & motivate


For me, being an agile leader means to be flexible and to stay mobile. The conditions in companies, teams, and projects are changing so fast today that it is often not possible to act proactively – you have to react. As fast as possible. Agile leadership is about being mobile and staying mobile. Wherever possible, you should, of course, be able to plan and act proactively. But in my opinion, nowadays, it is more important to react quickly, constructively and productively. Another important skill is being able to adapt to different circumstances as a leader.

A successful leader also creates a set-up that allows employees to think in terms of ideas and solutions rather than problems. Employees must be able to think outside the box and constantly explore options and opportunities. Employees need a high degree of self-commitment and personal responsibility. The reason for this is that our fast-paced time is exhausting, certainly not always “easy-cheesy” and relaxing. In order to do so, a leader needs employees who understand the reason behind actions and projects. More importantly, they need to believe in it and go an extra mile to achieve the maximum performance from their own accord.


It’s all about purpose


In this context, the purpose plays a crucial role. Ideally, it is like this: There is a clearly formulated and strong corporate purpose the employees know about. They can reflect on this corporate purpose and establish an intersection between what is important to them and the purpose of the organization. With this interaction, they know how to contribute to the “bigger picture”.

Of course, there will be cases in which the company’s purpose is not tangible enough to define one’s own contribution as an employee. If this is the case, it takes a break on the organizational unit, which is relevant for each team member, followed by the comparison: How does that fit together? What is important to the person?

I think that there is still potential in many companies when it comes to defining the purpose. Especially regarding the correlation between one’s personal purpose and the purpose of the organization.

Finding Purpose

Many leaders are asking the same question: Why do I do what I am doing? How can I contribute?


If you would like to start working on this topic, start with questions like What does purpose actually mean for our company? How tangible is it and is there place and time for a real confrontation? Is it something that stands on a marketing folder or do I associate more with it as a leader, as a CEO or as a board member?

Furthermore, it is important to look for the dispute according to rounds of questions and discussions. It is about a conscious process, in which employees deal with their own purpose and at the same time as the one of the company. As well as actively looking for points of friction and similarities. It can happen that somebody says: My purpose is not your business, that’s private. Of course, this must be respected and, as a leader, you must at least make sure that the respective team members recognize their own contribution to the corporate mission through their work tasks. Thereby they have to find meaning in what they do and, as a result, gain commitment.


The concept of engagement – Drive by Daniel H. Pink


A concept, I really like to use, is the Drive concept from the bestselling author Daniel H. Pink. I use it to reflect with leaders and team members and to work on motivation and purpose. From my point of view, it gives you clarity in a complex of topics that is sometimes elusive and difficult to grasp. Furthermore, it provides valuable insights by determining the location: where do I stand? How do I fit for the business purpose? What else would it take for the fit to be better?

For example, I worked with a group of senior executives and spent a whole afternoon answering questions like: ”What is my own purpose? How does this coincide with the corporate trajectory?” One participant has stated that she clearly separates her own purpose from that of the company, and at the same time realizes that it requires quite a bit of effort. As a result, she asked herself where there could be a common intersection, and how much energy she can use to bridge this gap.

Exactly those kinds of reflections are the ones, I find extremely valuable for both sides, the participants, and company. It offers a real value, to pause for a moment and go into depth to gain clarity on the one hand, but more importantly to gain motivation and commitment for the daily challenges.

More about the DRIVE concept


In addition to the purpose, the Drive concept is also about self-determination (Autonomy) and perfecting (Mastery) as a lever for engagement. Find out more about the concept in this video and in Daniel H. Pink’s book The surprising truth about what motivates us.”


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Getting out of your comfort zone – how exposure therapy helps you facing your fears

Getting out of your comfort zone – how exposure therapy helps you facing your fears

Why leaving your cozy comfort zone?


You know there is this saying: life happens outside of your comfort zone. That is – to be honest – taking it a bit too far because comfort zones are not a bad thing per se. But still, getting out of it can have this devious attraction. When we have to face something challenging, we run back to our comfort zone. When hard things come our way, something we are scared of, it is just so much easier to go back to our comfort zone instead of facing this challenge, whatever it is. So what happens every day is that we can choose between facing a challenge or between going back to where we feel comfortable. And of course, people are tempted to just go back to the second and are therewith missing out on a lot of things which might make their lives so much richer. Therefore you need to be able to step out of your comfort zone in order to make some change and achieve something bigger because changes don’t happen in your comfort zone. Russ Harris, one of the biggest guys in acceptance & commitment therapy calls it the “same old crap zone” and that’s often what it is. My mentor used to say:” While doing the things that scare us the most, that’s when magic start to happen in our lives.”

People often recognize that it is time for a change when we are talking about excuses. We probably all know this situation when we make up excuses for not going to the gym for instance. It is the same with other situations as well, doesn’t matter if it is in our personal or business life. Excuses pop up in our head when we start feeling uncomfortable and when we are finding ourselves in an unpleasant situation. In particular, I help people overcome this negative feelings and emotions.

About the author

Michael is a coach at ComfortZoneCrusher, an American company, which helps its clients to become more confident through stepping out of their comfort zone with playful exercises. He is as well a professional speaker and has already spoken at TEDx   or members of the parliament. Before working as a Comfort Zone Crusher, he has been a character animator working on movies and TV shows like “Kung Fu Panda”. But this was before he realized that helping people to live a meaningful life is much more rewarding than creating Saturday morning cartoons.

Facing your fears is more than showing courage


Probably some of you are wondering if it is simply courage that we teach people. I would say that courage is a byproduct of what we do. In the end, courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act despite your fear. So basically what we teach people is a skill set that helps them to act on what is important to them. Regardless of how they are thinking or how they are feeling. Let me explain that with a metaphor:

Usually, our immediate thoughts and our immediate emotions are sitting in the driver seat of the car which is our life and we ourselves sit on the passenger seat. What happens is that we hope that this driver just thinks or feels the right way and that he or she is going to drive in the direction we want to go. We are sitting in the passenger seat and we just try as hard as we can to make the right thoughts and emotions.

Back to Comfort Zone Crushing, what we teach is how to move yourself to the driver seat and how to make and control the thoughts and emotions now. This means that you can drive wherever you want to and to go for what is important for you in life. Of course, if we are honest, the passenger is still going to be there sometimes but this is not important. The important thing is to sit in the driver seat and to drive towards something, which is important to you.

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We must be our own driver to go for what is important to us despite negative feelings and thoughts

Overcoming negative emotions with exposure therapy


An old proven and effective method to face your fears and overcome your negative emotions is exposure therapy, which has been researched since the sixties. We probably all know photos or videos of people lying on the sidewalk, high-fiving strangers or howling like a wolf in public. Those exercises are all used in exposure therapy. By confronting your fears in general – or your social fears like in the challenges I’ve mentioned before – you slowly desensitize yourself to the fear of rejection and of embarrassment. My job, as a comfort zone crusher, is to show people that nothing bad will happen even though they don’t feel comfortable in the beginning. No one will judge you, even when you make a fool of yourself. So when we are talking about exposure therapy and its effects, these kind of exercises are only the tip of the iceberg I would say.

Real change happens in the huge hidden part of the iceberg. Let me explain it to you with an example:

What would your reaction be when I am telling you to howl like a wolf in the middle of the street? Probably a lot of excuses and bad emotions would pop up in your head. So when we think of our car metaphor again, the bad emotions and excuses would climb back in the driver seat and take you wherever they want to go. Which time and targeted exercises you can learn to climb back in the driver seat to control your emotions and thoughts yourself. Howling like a wolf might not sound life changing but it will help you in other situations as well.

We all experience unpleasant situations, for instance at work, when we have to do a pitch or speak up in a meeting. And every time we find ourselves in difficult situations like this, all the bad emotions and thoughts will come up. But here is the important thing: when you think back to how you did overcome your fear and howled like a wolf in the street, you know that you can master this situation as well. So transferring the techniques and skills to your everyday life is the important part, not howling like a wolf in the first place. And exactly this is what exposure therapy and stepping out of your comfort zone is really all about.

International leadership development

Making yourself a fool in public might not sound really effective – but exercises like this will help you overcoming your fears in everyday situations

Comfort zone crushing in (virtual) team development


So the essential thing about comfort zone crushing is to develop tools and techniques for dealing with unhelpful thoughts and emotions in everyday life situations. Having unhelpful thoughts and emotions often apply to situations at work or within teams. Thus, comfort zone crushing is a good workshop method for teambuilding. When I work with teams it is amazing for me as a coach to see that people not only overcome their fears but that the exercises we do also strengthen the bond between the team members. The teambuilding aspect of comfort zone crushing is very intense because people are going through intense emotional situations together. And this is where bonding happens because they are all in the same situation and support, push and congratulate each other.

But nowadays – in times of digitalization – I have clients, where the team is spread all over the world. Many of you probably wonder if teambuilding and comfort zone crushing actually works with virtual teams as well. According to my experience, I get the impression that people who are working in a virtual team are still able to develop the skills and the psychological flexibility. Unfortunately, they are missing out one thing in my opinion and that’s the team building effect. Going out together, pushing each other and overcoming your fears together really does support the team spirit. But what I see is that people from virtual teams actually text and tell each other before they complete an exercise which has a positive effect on the team spirit as well. So I would say that it works for both teams, face to face is just a little bit easier because of the direct support of the team.


Excuse me, can I get a coffee for free, please?


To get all that into practice, I would like to give you one challenge, dear reader. The next time you go out for lunch ask the people at the restaurant or take-away place if you can get something for free. It doesn’t matter if it is a coffee, a dessert or only a plastic spoon. The whole thing is not about getting something for free, it is about facing your fears of getting rejected. So when they say no for the first time, probably a lot of negative emotions and thoughts will pop up in your head but here is the thing: don’t let the bad emotions climb into the driver’s seat. Face them and ask the people at the restaurant for the reason etc. It might sound easy and funny now, but you will see, the moment you go there and ask the employee for something free, you will feel uncomfortable. But believe me, afterwards, you will see that it wasn’t so difficult and you will feel so proud and relieved!

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Unconventional methods in international leadership development

Unconventional methods in international leadership development

The world we live in is constantly changing, therefore the business world as well. Many people are talking about a VUCA-world (=volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations) as a short description of how our world looks today. There are many new business models that are trying to get along with this change process. But somehow you get the feeling that the training-and development field is not going along with this process. In this guest article, MDI trainer Sylwia Lewandowska-Akhvlediani is talking about this aspect and about unconventional methods in international leadership programs to co-create a space for people to act from their highest potential.

About the author

Sylwia Lewandowska-Akhvlediani is an inspirational and energetic cross-cultural psychologists, working as a strong sparing partner and coach for senior leaders and as a trainer and facilitator with more than 15 years of training, coaching and management experience! She is Co-Founder of the Emerge Leadership Festival, a global community of purpose driven leaders. Her focus is on daily rituals that build your power in leadership and parentship.

If the business is changing so dramatically each day in a VUCA world, why are the leadership development methods not along with this process?

The VUCA-world we live in is marked by constant change. There are new business models rising up as a reaction to this “new” world. Agile leadership can be an answer, more self-designed and self-managed organizations that are offering more purposeful work opportunities, more remote teams that are successful, more robots engaged, fewer people needed here and there, digital disruption where nobody really knows what it is all about. There are many discussions between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg whether AI (Artificial Intelligence) can support the human kind or if it will lead to what we were watching passionately in Terminator in the early 1980’s? The concepts of what is constant or secure are changing. The managing methods that were created not very long ago, seem to not having so much adequacy regarding the new challenges. Points who are important for leaders or business owners are changing. You have to be equipped with new skills so you can stand still when your head is on fire (as I heard once). Those new skills are dealing with the uncertainty, facilitating group processes (including conflicts), managing energy rather than engagement, mindfulness and emotional intelligence, creative and community problem solving, creating new products (with design thinking for instance) for instance. You as a leader must as well make sure that people are able to transfer their experiences from different contexts (parents <–> leaders).

International leadership development

Artificial Intelligence: can it support the human kind or if it will lead to what we were watching passionately in Terminator in the early 1980’s?

What are the reasons that the methods are not getting along with the process?

Then the question I ask myself is – why are the methods of delivering the training and development opportunities not changing so much? I mean, of course, we have much more room for coaching tools, facilitation technologies (e.g. Open Space Technology), we dare to be a bit more provocative than in the past but honestly, does this really offer a lasting impact on a person and the organization?

We know from the research that we forget over 60% of the learned material on the second day after the delivery, the next two days 80% and 99% when not applying the new skill or knowledge. Most of the companies look for better products to make their customers’ life easier, more pleasant, happier and healthier sometimes. But WE (= Development Guides in a role of a coach, trainer, facilitator, HR or talent managers, people or wellbeing officers,  head or business partners etc.) should really keep in mind that this all requires a set of new methods – and equally important: the mindset!

Why do you want to work with unconventional methods?

I asked some of the customers we’ve been working with developing leaders worldwide and these are the answer

  • Curiosity: we always think the same way, with unconventional methods I can provoke and kind of step back and free up.
  • I rely on previous programs and still want to have a surprise moment and a balance between what’s new and then experiment,
  • Change, innovation, and digitalization make people think out of the box, we want this from the people, I want to walk the talk and have it inside of me,
  • I don’t want to offer standard trainings, I want a different setup and apply it in intercultural setting as well,
  • I want to have this experience during the training, reflect and ask myself and therefore become better and broader,
  • HR meetings, forums, and conferences are a good form to try something new,
  • I want to make internal HR community meetings unconventional,
  • I want to do something different, demanding a lot of self-responsibility, it must be connected to the purpose of the training – and I want an “aha moment” and curiosity that offers something to really remember!

We agreed that WHY we really want it, is to have an IMPACT that LASTS on a leader and the organization. While working internationally for the last 15 years in really different contexts, I created a Personal Learning Model I am applying to all the development program I am engaged which says:

International leadership development

This is really to underline that one learn and change only when something touches him or her – not my boss, nor HR but me.

What does this mean in practice?

Having this in mind what does it really mean now to offer the learning space for leadership programs? I asked myself and the group and the answer seems to be obvious:

– Leadership development programs should be a space
that offers the most opportunities to be touched –

Now, people differ, so you never know who will be in the program to say – well, John joins us at 11.15, so there will be something for you to transform, or Anna comes for the afternoon outdoor session as there will be „your” exercise. Thus, we need to create a space as a whole – virtual space, physical space and the connection before and after, so people can come with curiosity and willingness to contribute not only for themselves but also for the collective. And remember, that the fact that you take a group outside of the training room but keep talking does not mean that you will gain the lasting impact 😉 From this perspective for me personally, it emerged that leadership is:

– Co-creating and holding a space for people to be and to act
from their highest potential, every day –

When working with my teams on specific projects or delivering an individual or group space I am present there in a collaborative way, so the person I am working for will reach the highest potential and will know how to fire it up every day – and not just during the training.

The 10 rules of how to co-create a space for people to act from their highest potential

I know what’s on your mind now:

Sylwiaaaaaa, please share how to co-create and hold a space for people to be and to act from their highest potential, every day? Don’t worry, this is what I will do now as I put it in 10 rules.

1) 80% success is in preparation, 20% in execution.

Save 80% of the time for the preparation of the program, meeting or conference so you can offer different opportunities to be touched.

2) Co-creation is a key.

Engage different stakeholders to co-create the space and learning experience (this I show and name it instead of just a program). Don’t try to be the smartest one but use crowdsourcing. This is how self-responsibility for growing starts.

3) Set some rules for the learning process.

Change and deep learning only happen when people feel safe to be vulnerable. Make sure that people co-create the rules together and live them during the program.

4) The balance between experience, reflection, and talking.

Equality in a learning process is important – we can learn as well as the ones we design the programs for. Thus, you are not the only expert in the room but you offer the space for the experts to go through something meaningful by doing, reflecting and sharing. How many times were you touched by the story somebody shared? Make sure you have time for that.

5) Use the time for transformation at the event or training not only after.

In a VUCA world, I want to already transform during the program and not wait until I go back to work or home. Thus, I want to experiment here and now, so make sure people understand the intention and get ready for that!

6) Body-Mind-Heart connection.

Offer the experience that supports the connection of all three aspects of the humankind. Concentrating too much on the intellect only (what happens most) will not have a lasting impact. Include movement and emotions – that makes the change!

7) Create curiosity and intrigue the surrounding but not too wired.

Offering the space to be touched does not mean to come up with “too strange” exercises or exercises that, instead of putting you out of your comfort zone, will put you in a fear zone. If so – not much learning can be done! Keep it in mind.

8) Check your mindset first.

We want our people to be more innovative, agile and so on. The first question is: are we the ones who are innovative, agile etc.? How do you walk the talk? How do you grow yourself? You will not include new methods once you will not have your own internal believes that it works. What holds you back?

9) Simplicity versus seriousness

I know that something that sounds serious seems to be the smartest. But the question is if the person really understands it and if she/he can apply it later on?! I prefer to do less of the material but the one that can be applied instead of having an ego satisfied to deliver something sounding so good. You know what I mean, right?

10) Let’s have some FUN!

You’ve probably heard the quote <<work hard, play hard>>. Some say that Millennials made us act differently. I disagree as being around forty, working on complex challenges, being a mum of two young ones, working internationally and being married to a foreigner who is also working internationally. This requires a lot of creativity, agility, and FUN unless I want to stay healthy and strong in my life. The same refers to the leaders we offer our space too, isn’t it? How can you invite a sense of humor in the way you do things?

Last but not least: who can co-create and hold a space for people to be and to act from their highest potential every day?

The last thing – and I would admit that it is the most important one are the questions “who can co-create such space” and what kind of skills and mindset does it really requires?

From my experience, holding this transformative space is a big thing. You need to be very self-aware and mindful, so you feel and read what’s happening in the field. This requires not only a great body-mind-heart connection of your own but also the ability to confront the reality, show what is hidden, bring a shadow, witness the old passing and the new coming, set some rituals to celebrate it and work on the everyday habits to support it, depending on what the group purpose is. It is more the role of a facilitator or coach than an old-way thinking trainer or an expert. I call it leading in a leadership development journey.


Methods and formats that can inspire you:

  • Welcome rituals
  • Cards and pictures
  • Lego blocks
  • Art and painting
  • Music, including live music
  • Movement and dance
  • Body work
  • Laughing yoga
  • Visualization
  • Experiments
  • Challenges in public
  • Social responsible projects (CSR)
  • Self-designed reflection groups
  • Fuck up nights
  • Cabaret and show
  • Evening sessions
  • Concerts
  • No hotel rooms anymore but nice pensions, development centers, co-working spaces often used for start-ups
  • No power point presentations
  • No tables, circles
  • Transfer of learning – easy to use platforms for people to stay connected
International leadership development

Laughing yoga, challenges in public, bodywork & Co. are only a few methods that can inspire you

Believe me, the sky is no longer a limit, so is designing the development opportunities.

Happy to discuss this by email or virtually.

Have fun and lasting impact on the work you are doing to support leaders worldwide create a better world.

Sylwia Lewandowska-Akhvlediani or

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Leadership development in South Africa – Insights from a trainer

Leadership development in South Africa – Insights from a trainer

South Africa – also called the rainbow nation – is famous for its beautiful beaches, an impressive wildlife, the warm hospitality of the people and much more. The country doesn’t have an easy past though. Uncertainty and intercultural conflicts are still noticeable. We talked to Gerard Le Sueur from South Africa, who is working as a trainer for almost 20 years about the current challenges, differences to Europe and the being a trainer in times of digitalization.

The current situation: a challenging environment and the Seta system


According to your opinion: What is currently the biggest challenge for organizations in South Africa?


Gerard: There are a few: the political uncertainty/turmoil, corruption and ethical issues involved in that, economic climate and uncertainty, including uncertain and changing economic policy, a political economic atmosphere that is unfriendly to business, navigating the volatile and the uncertain environment every day.


“Nice to have” or a strategic factor of success: How do you experience that South African organizations view (international) leadership development at the moment and how will that be in the future?


There are different levels or hierarchies. Multinational companies, like European ones will very often follow the global trend to focus on their core business and outsource product and service delivery. This delivery is mostly global and from one or few sources; one global delivery. The same is true in South Africa, where multinationals will drive delivery of leadership training from a single point, often outside of South Africa. Large South African organizations follow the trend in that they will follow the Leadership technology that is trending and they don’t fall far behind. Here these South African organizations will often use Business schools or very well-known consulting companies to delivery programs. The fact that in South Africa there is a system for delivering training that is acknowledged officially via Seta’s (points), which can collect towards an official qualification or access to university programmes, means that there is often collaboration with business schools or officially recognised Seta providers. Locally there is is also a tendency to developing leadership skills in levels, basic management (upskilling people who have little “technical” management experience), where one would say the leadership is not new or sexy, but as the leadership level and experience increases there is more strategic and personal process side of Leadership that is found, like you do globally.

Training designs in South Africa & “African leadership”


As we all know international leadership development is a lot about intercultural awareness and empathy. For a training professional doing a leadership program in South Africa: What would you as the expert recommend and are there important things he/she shall pay special attention to?


You are never an expert, just another person in the room. We are different and the same. Don’t pretend to be the same, when you aren’t and don’t be totally different (better or not from here). When you engage deeply in South Africa it stretches you. Concepts like VUCA are everyday real experiences, you need to be able to feel totally uncertain, listen deeply and say you are sorry without losing your center. A friend says, “It’s the choice between being right or happy.” In Africa, this choice will confront you!


People from many different cultures are living in South Africa and there are eleven official languages which are probably not always easy: Are there any typical challenges when it comes to the cultural differences of the participants of a leadership program and did it change a lot in the last couple of years?


In South Africa, there is a huge discussion going on about “what is African leadership?”  This comes from the colonial inheritance, which involves EVERYONE, even Europeans coming over to work in South Africa. So we need to be very open to questioning and discussing what works for South Africa. Even if you agree to come up with the same result, the discussion and questioning are important. Don’t bring your powerpoints and say this is how the world works.

There is a higher level of volatility and dissatisfaction, this between cultures. Meaning that the sensitivity and “aggression” is higher, but the energy generated by openness and warmth is also much higher. So never be afraid, unless you think you know better.

Design tips for your international leadership program

In South Africa, the rainbow nation, people from many different cultural backgrounds are living which is not always easy

People from Europe who don’t know South Africa may underestimate how developed South Africa actually is – in your opinion: are there any major differences between leadership development in South Africa and Europe for instance and if yes, can you tell us something about them?


We are talking about African leadership (maybe a more globally accepted form of leadership), inclusivity and equality on a very deep level. Europe is not really anywhere near the same depth of this discussion. The Status quo in Europe is very strong to the point that nobody really recognizes it, “They don’t see, that they don’t see what they don’t see”, whereas in Africa there is real disruption here. Chaos and lack of clarity too, but rigorous discussion and challenging.


Being a trainer in times of digitalization


What do you think of the following: In times of unstoppable digitalization – Are classroom trainings – which means face-to-face – still up-to-date or will they vanish soon? And why/why not? Can you think of any differences between Europe and South Africa?


The University of Stellenbosch Business school has been doing very advanced virtual classrooms for many years, including people who sit “in the room”. Running webinars, online (with presence via media tools) is very common and developing itself very professionally, using IT technology to engage and connect in very practical ways. Here I would say Europe is actually behind in some ways, partly because it’s closer and easier to bring people together, geographically and economically. This, however, does not take away the need for “presence” programs but drives the ingenuity required to deliver impactful programs that are a mix, holding the engagement over longer periods of times, using a variation of technology.


Let’s talk about international leadership trainings in general: what is the most important thing when working as a trainer on an international level and what are the typical challenges? Can you give us any tips?


An Old bushman told me, “You white people (meaning westerners) are really stupid. First, you dig/build the hole you want, then when you lie in it, you cry that it isn’t right and you need to change it. He said, “There’s nothing to change. Everything is exactly as it should be.”

I understand that it is a huge arrogance and disservice to humanity, to think we know what to do and what must change. Don’t go to a leadership training thinking you are going to “fix” something or somebody. Rather stay at home and plant some veggies, if that’s your attitude.


According to your opinion: What will be the biggest challenge for the training & development industry in the next 5 to 10 years?


Global roll-out, that suits the local requirements, including finding the right level of collaboration to make this work for both the central organization and the localized.

Our interview partner

Gerard Le Sueur is living close to Cape Town, South Africa and has more than 18 years of experience in Consulting and Organisational change development, including topics such as Agile Leadership development and development of teams. He loves to be a development guide because it is his way to stay in a relationship with the world. His personal preference regarding development fields? “Whatever moves me and pulls me towards it. I love coaching at present.”

What serves you next?


Leadership development in Serbia

Only a few years ago, leadership trainings were seen more as a punishment than an opportunity to improve and develop. Even though the situation has changed a lot, many companies are still offering trainings just because the others do so. Darko Tot was telling us more about how organizations view leadership development at the moment, the current challenges for companies and much more.

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Leadership development in Brazil

Leadership development in Brazil - Insights from a long-time consultant

Silke Körner was born in Germany but have worked and lived in Brazil for many years. She talked to us about how she experiences leadership development in Brazil as a trainer and L&D consultant and how digital leadership influences the country, which has the largest economy in Latin America.

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Leadership development Greece

Leadership development in Greece

The financial recession that has resulted in shrinking household incomes, ambiguity, and pessimism is only one big challenge for Greek organizations at the moment. We talked to Sotiris Karagiannis, who has more than 20 years training in consulting experience in Greece, the Czech Republic and wider Balkans about the challenges and future trends of leadership development in Greece.

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Leadership development in Serbia

Leadership development in Serbia

Interview with expert Darko Tot

Darko Tot has more than 10 years of experience in leadership development. We wanted to know more about the biggest challenges for organizations in Serbia at the moment, intercultural awareness and empathy and the future of classroom trainings.

According to your opinion: What is currently the biggest challenge for organizations in Serbia?


I would list two.

Due to quite low average salaries and high unemployment rate, it is quite easy to find new employees for the majority of positions. Very often the approach is that it is easier (and less expensive) to replace someone than to invest into his development, to dedicate time and effort, to coach etc.

On the other side, due to the opening of new positions, we were eye-witnessing that some positions were having extremely fast expansion. Someone started as a salesperson in one company, then the new company entered the market so s/he applies for a supervisor position and, due to some experience, got it. And then a new company came looking for a sales manager, so s/he appeared to be a good candidate. Soon after that, that person became, for example, sales director (similar can be applied to HR, etc.), with just a couple of years of experience. Now, being there it is difficult to acknowledge that development was too fast (actually I hear that only from one person in my about 15 years of experience). And this situation creates a lot of difficulties…


“Nice to have” or a strategic factor of success: How do you experience that Serbian organizations view (international) leadership development at the moment and how will that be in the future?


When I started to work in leadership development, back in 2003, participation in trainings was seen more as “punishment” and a sign that “I must be doing something wrong” than an opportunity to improve and develop.

The situation has changed a lot ever since.

However, my impression is that most of the companies are still on the level “nice to have it” or “when others do it, then we will do it, too”. Although it is not necessarily the wrong starting point, it appears in many cases that development programs are not well prepared, goals are not clear, everything is done in the last minute, just to tick the box. The selection of the participants is either too narrow or too wide. As a result, occasionally, in some companies, you might hear “training, oh not again please”.

The future will depend on a couple of factors out of which I would highlight the two: quality of HR people in the companies and quality of providers. The first one plays the key role in preparation, development of internal processes, creating a proper climate, understanding costs of both training and non-training and available options. The second one is interlinked very much with the first one. Simply quality on the demand side will set up the quality of the supply side. Or, to paraphrase famous Lewis Carroll quote: If you don’t know what you want from the training, any training will get you there.


You are a trainer and professional for many years already. According to your experience: What are the differences between development measures (trainings, digital learning etc.) in Serbia and, for example, in Austria or Germany?


I would say that it is the approach, attitude and consequently impact. My impression is that when working with participants coming from Austria or Germany investment into development is seen as critical for their personal success and therefore they are showing a higher level of commitment. This might be also linked with better understanding and existence of wider opportunities on the market and better preparation of development measures. At the same time, there are also bright examples in Serbia, so everything is having a strong cultural component.


What is most important when working as a trainer on an international level and what does it take to be an international training and development guide? What are typical challenges and do you have any tips?


Readiness to learn and constantly develop, openness to new experiences, flexibility to understand and approach different personality styles, the capability to motivate people, to help them in becoming better persons and professionals.

And all these elements have their positive and challenging side. The biggest risk is to think that you know it all and to stop focusing on the people in front of you. All in all, you simply have to love it, to enjoy working with and for the people.

Leadership development

The most important thing when working as an international trainer? Motivate people, help them in becoming better persons & professionals: you simply have to enjoy working with and for the people

International leadership development is a lot about intercultural awareness and empathy. For a training professional doing a module of a leadership program in Serbia: What would you as the expert recommend? To what shall he/she pay special attention and what is important? What are your tips for success in order that the training is really beneficial for everyone?


I have learned with one of my first clients that you are not the expert just because you say so or because you have some internationally recognized certificates. One of the things I have learned during my study at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) in London is that as a professional trainer you need to “enter into their shoes”.

Being able to establish head-to-head and heart-to-heart communication with an individual and a group is the prerequisite of the success. And always to be aware that you are there for them and not the other way around. It is not about you being smart but helping them to do what they are doing faster and better.

Once people recognize that, you are on your way to succeeding.


What do you think of the following: In times of unstoppable digitalisation – Are classroom trainings – which means face-to-face – still up-to-date or will they vanish soon? And why/why not? How to deal with that situation?


My humble opinion is that we should invest in the new forms, without abandoning the traditional ones. Technology development is faster than evolution dynamic. If, just because we have new modern ways of communication, we stop meeting people in the real world, having coffee with them etc. – then we will face many psychological challenges that a training or coaching will hardly be able to solve.

As new modern cars should not prevent walking, possibility to see every corner of the planet from our sofa shouldn’t replace visits to new places or computer sports games shouldn’t stop real sports activities, also digitalisation should not lead to the end of face to face trainings. After all or before all, we are social beings and ultimately we like meeting other people, discussions, interaction etc.


According to your opinion: What will be the biggest challenge for the training & development industry in the next 5 to 10 years?


In the era in which we are receiving so much information per day everybody knows or have read something about almost any topic no matter if this is climate change, economic development, time management or leadership.

Although superficial, such knowledge creates the impression, yes I know that. And as a result, I believe that we will have more and more of this “I know it all” approach. Overcoming that and motivating people to really invest in themselves and go beyond the first page on Google or  2 minutes video on YouTube will be more and more difficult. Already today we have to deal with “I want it all and I want in now” and we all know that training is not that sort of the game. It is not a short sprint, it is rather a marathon.

Darko Tot leadership development in Serbia
Our interview partner

Darko Tot has more than 10 years of experience in international leadership development. His passion is to meet new people, hearing their personal stories and learn more about their jobs. He likes to work in the leadership development field because it gives the biggest opportunity to influence in a broader context, to provoke people to make changes and to achieve some impact.
His motto? When started to work and opening my own consultancy business the motto set up was “Your success is our mission!” And that’s how I act ever since then (And, by the way, it sounds much better in Serbian)

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Leadership development in Brazil

Leadership development in Brazil

Silke Körner is originally from Germany but worked in Brazil as a trainer and L&D consultant for many years. In this post, she reveals how she experienced leadership development and training in Brazil and how digitalization and leadership 4.0 are influencing the country.

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International leadership development with Mondi

International leadership development with Mondi

Mondi’s new leadership training program will be launched in the fall of 2017 and will focus on intercultural leadership and the preparation of leaders for international challenges. We talked to the head of The Mondi Academy, Birgit Höttl, and our MDI Training & Development Consultant, Helena Gutierrez about the program.

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Project management of international leadership programs – my experience at MDI

Project management of international leadership programs – my experience at MDI

The main task of a project manager at MDI is the organization of different international leadership programs. We talked to Katharina Sonnleitner, who has been a project manager at MDI since 2015, and wanted to know how her daily working routine looks like and what challenges arise in the organization of international seminars.


How would a day as a project manager look like at MDI?


Monday 08:00 am. – I arrive at the office and minutes later I get a call: the package cannot be found at the hotel where the seminar takes place and I should take care of it: the training starts in one hour. I call the forwarder, who tells me that the package was already picked up last Wednesday and according the tracking number it should have been delivered a few days ago. The lady on the phone will have a look at it and will get back to me. To make sure that the package will arrive on time, I have to call the hotel again to make sure the person who is responsible for that will bring the package to our trainer. The person responsible is not at work today – they will look at it again and will get back to me – that sounds familiar to me. In the meantime, another call and text message from the trainer … “Do we know more about the package?” Then a call from the forwarder, the package was received on Thursday, so it must be at the hotel already. I call the hotel for the 3rd time and they tell me that it was delivered to the wrong room but will bring it to our trainer immediately. Well, now everything is sorted out and the training can start. The first thing I am going to do now is getting a coffee – everyone who thinks that the day of a project manager is predictable, is wrong.


What are the main tasks of a project manager when it comes to the organization of a seminar?


The requirements for a project manager are very versatile, ranging from organizational talent and flexibility, to results orientation, openness and emotional intelligence. Business knowledge is an asset, language skills and IT expertise are indispensable. One of the most important skill is the ability to analyse problems and make decisions based on them. I can absolutely agree that all the points above are very important to master my every day working life. MDI is characterized by its internationality and carries out leadership programs in many different countries. International projects are interesting, but as well complex and challenging. As a project manager, I need to get an insight into the corporate culture of my customers. I have to know the exact requirements and focus on all my tasks to reach the result in the best interest for the customer.
I am responsible for the smooth running of international leadership programs – which is a great responsibility and associated with many different tasks. I am in a team with my colleague who works as a training & development consultant. She designs tailor-made offers depending on the requirements of our customers. If the program has been accepted, my work as a project manager start. I am the interface between the customers and participants, trainers and the locations where the seminar takes place. I am involved in the whole project, starting with the search for a seminar date.


What is particularly challenging in international programs?


The participant-management is one of the most extensive responsibilities and includes the registration of the participants in our database, individual communication and the support over the entire period of the program. The communication is a major challenge in an international project because I do not only come into contact with different ways to communicate but I also with language barriers. The letters of invitation I send, range from German to English, French, Bulgarian, Turkish and Arabic. Even if many processes are standardized, dealing with so many languages requires a certain openness.

The same applies to our questionnaires and feedback sheets. The questionnaires are send to the participants before the start of the program to find out more about their expectations and the feedback sheet afterwards to evaluate the program. Both documents are translated in the respective language of the participants.
I am also responsible for the seminar materials. In co-ordination with the trainer, I prepare presentations, participant manuals, worksheets, development contracts and much more. Of course, these must also be written in the respective training language.  This needs a lot of coordination with translators and trainers. It is not only about the correct translation. It is very important to ensure that the language also corresponds to the respective company culture and expression, and that there is no “lost in translation”.

international leadership programs

It is not only about the correct translation. It is very important to ensure that the language also corresponds to the respective company culture and expression. This can be very challenging.

Furthermore, it is my task to organize the arrival and the accommodation for the trainers and make the trip as comfortable as possible for them. Therefore, I am constantly in contact with travel agencies, airlines, taxi companies, car rental agencies and hotels.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the parallel handling of many international projects. Every country, every customer and every project has its own requirements, which I have to recognize and act upon. The right timing and the perfect planning are essential for a successful program. Setting priorities has been my greatest learning since I joined MDI, and I am proud to contribute to the continuing education and development of many people and customers.


Your tip for the successful organization of international projects?


My personal tip for all those who are involved in many international projects is to define and document the goals and to do’s. If you have a good overview of all your projects, then there is nothing more standing in the way of successful project management.

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Mondi’s Global Leadership Training Program (Customer story)

Mondi's global leadership training program

As a globally operating company we often send out our managers to other countries. Hence, intercultural competence is an important skill. But what makes a leader culturally competent? We talked to Birgit Höttl, The Head of The Mondi Academy, and Helena Gutierrez, MDI Training & Development Conusltant, about Mondi’s new global leadership training program.

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Many involved stakeholders, different interests and goals, cultural complexity and above all the demand to achieve results advancing the organisation. The challenges of international leadership programs are numerous. Gunther Fürstberger, Managing Director & Head of Business Development at MDI, summarised 4 factors of success of international leadership development.

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International leadership development with Mondi

Key competitive factor: International leadership development

The ongoing internationalisation of the economy entails the necessity of international leadership development, because well trained leaders and managers are a crucial compettitive factor on the global market. But what is the perfect time to invest in international leadership development?

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Mondi’s Global Leadership Training Program (Customer story)

Mondi’s Global Leadership Training Program (Customer story)

Mondi’s new global leadership training program will be launched in the fall of 2017. The program will focus on intercultural leadership and the preparation of leaders for international challenges. We talked about the program with Birgit Höttl, head of The Mondi Academy and Helena Gutierrez, MDI Training & Development consultant. They explained the benefits for the company, the complexity of the topic and gave some tips for the successful transfer of intercultural content.


What were the main reasons for the development of the Global Leadership Program?


Birgit Höttl: As a globally operating company we often send out our managers to other countries, for example as part of the integration of new plants. It is important that managers who come to a new country have a sense of what intercultural leadership means and what risks are involved. With our new training we want to create awareness for cultural differences and show the participants what they have to keep in mind when they come to a new culture, one which is maybe completely different than the own one – especially when it is about leadership. An integration phase is already a stressful time. If a leader doesn’t have a feel for the new culture, particularly during such a stressful time, many things can go wrong – such as loss of time, friction loss and in the end can lead to something like financial loss.


So does it mean that the program is a preventive measure?


Birgit Höttl: Yes, prevention is one focus of the program. We want to help our managers to better understand others cultures and their ways of working. We want to support the global mind-set of our managers in general. Mondi is globally operating and we all work in a world that is growing together. This is why we want leaders with a broader view and who have intercultural sensitivity. In relation to their leadership mind-set they should have a holistic approach to leadership and think globally.  “Think global, act local” is a good example of explaining it.


Intercultural competence is an important skill at Mondi and at the same time the core of the new program. What makes a manager at Mondi culturally competent?


I think that it is important to get some information about the foreign country in the first place and to compare your own values with the values from the foreign culture. This makes someone cultural competent. Another thing is to recognize and reflect your own learning fields. This gives you the chance to work on them and enables you to meet your own expectations as well as the expectations of the company and your future employees.  Self-reflection is therefore something that is important in a culturally competent leadership.


Does this mean that cultural competence is more a mind-set than a toolbox?


Not only – I think that it definitely starts with a mind-set because you have to be open for the new culture and start to compare their values with your own. It is important to show openness for new cultures, perhaps as well a healthy curiosity for how things work in the foreign culture and what you can learn from the people there. An open mind-set is not enough. You need a toolbox you can go back to as well, tools that help you to apply and implement things. The right mixture of mind-set and toolbox is therefore important for cultural competence.



Intercultural competence can be a sensitive topic in terms of stereotypes. How do you avoid clichés?


I think that in training like this – you may not necessarily use stereotypes – but you must emphasize certain things. However it should not remain on this level – it is important to provide the participants with practical examples such as exercises to get them out of their comfort zone as well as personal experience reports from participants. This creates a truly practical work environment. In the pilot training, employees from many different cultures were involved as well as managers who already gained international experiences as expats. This was a very valuable and important contribution that made the training work and implementable without sticking to stereotypes.


Keyword comfort zone: the new program should get the participants out of their comfort zone to develop new skills. How does this work exactly? 


You need practical exercises to get out of your comfort zone. I can especially remember the exercises which had insecurity as their basic motive. The good thing about such exercises is that you get out of your comfort zone relatively fast because you do not know what is going on and how to react. No basic rules were made in the beginning – the participants were thrown into the deep end. This reflects very well what can happen when you are not informed about the habits and values of the new culture. Exercises like this demonstrate how misleading and dangerous it can be to go unprepared into such situations.

International leadership development

Exercises which have insecurity as their basic motive get you out of your comfort zone very quick – which is a very good learning effect

How did the participants like the pilot training?


They liked it very much! They particularly enjoyed the exchange of information with other participants who have already gained international experience. But of course – and that is the reason why we have a pilot training – there are some things we have to refine a little bit. Perhaps we must even add more of those “uncomfortable” exercises to the training – our employees like hands-on exercises such as the ones we had in our training. All in all the feedback was very positive. One sales director liked it even so much that he is now offering the training to his team – apart from the training we offer.


What would have been different without the pilot group?


This is hard to say because we always have a training with a pilot group before the complete roll-out. The participants of the pilot training are people with a lot of experience. In this way we are able to get really good, critical and constructive feedback.


Is this a measure you would recommend?


Yes, definitely. The training can be designed by a professional training provider and can be in line with the shareholder’s expectations: the practical implementation will always differ from the actual plan. This is why I would always make a test run first – it simply enables quality assurance.


What has to be done until the launch in September?


We will advertise and change and adapt certain things – based on the feedback from the pilot group. Afterwards we can start with the international roll-out.


In the end a look into the future: what must happen that Mondi considers the program as successful?


Well, it is successful when the participants recommend this program to their colleagues afterwards – positive word-of-mouth is always a sign of success.

We asked our consultant

Helena Gutierrez is MDI Training and Development Consultant for Mondi’s program. We asked her some questions as well.


From a training provider’s point of view: What was the most challenging task in designing this new Global Leadership Training Program?


The most challenging thing was to come up with the right learning transfer strategy, mostly because the employees of Mondi are very well equipped with a lot of soft skills and a lot of training in their pockets. We wanted something that would not only take them out of their comfort zone but also offer them a deeper look into culture and to show them what it really takes to be an outstanding leader in the global environment. It was not an easy task but because we are not dealing with ‘rookies’, success was achieved.


How did it work out? Would you say that there is a key to really developing and strengthening such skill as “intercultural competence”?


I think it worked out really well plus the feedback was clearly fantastic. The key: Mondi’s got it!  People at Mondi are willing to get out of their comfort zone, they are open for challenges and growth. That is the success factor: Mondi goes the extra mile. They act with global understanding and they want to learn from best practices. That’s one key success factor why this training is so successful.

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Ingredients for your next leadership program design

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Targets and expectations are clear, you gained the commitment of all relevant stakeholders and up to board level everyone is aware of the importance of your planned international leadership program. Now it’s time for the actual design of the program. We identified the four most common pitfalls on the way to hazzle-free design of an effective leadership program and added helpful “ingredients of success” right om the practice to avoid them.

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