Working Out Loud – The beginning & meeting #1

Working Out Loud – The beginning & meeting #1

While seeking for possibilities to co-create and co-learn as well as have significant impact as a community, the method of Working Out Loud crossed our way. The mission is simple: Define your personal goal, build relationships that matter and therewith increase the quality of your work and life together with the feeling of belonging somewhere. And we jumped right into it.


The disruption surfer – how to respond to the waves of change

The disruption surfer – how to respond to the waves of change

The world we live and work in has become more and more fluid over the past few years. Changes are happening so fast that we can barely build on a solid ground. In the past, most companies worked like this: an industrial company, for example, built a factory that would work and exist for a few decades. Today, the most valuable companies, have – in comparison to the past – little-fixed assets. Current ideas, connecting resources, and a constant adoption became much more important. If we are looking for a metaphor for the modern leader, we should start with the underground. Nowadays, the underground of the modern leader would rather be water or air than a solid underground. Waves in the sea are a good metaphor for the waves of the disruption.


Waves instead of a solid ground


Often, these waves arise far away before they come to the coast, where their size is only predictable at short notice. Therefore, they can either be a threat or a great chance for the surfer. An experienced surfer observes the waves and chooses the right one for him. If the waves are not strong enough, you can’t really do a lot with it.

Waves of the disruption

Is the wave a threat or a great chance for the surfer? An experienced surfer observes the waves in the first place and chooses the right one for him afterwards.


As a leader in the digital transformation, you should definitely keep an eye on the approaching waves of change. Many companies are drowning because they ignore the changes, which are often coming from an unexpected side. If they do not ignore them, they often only recognize them when it is already too late. In the meanwhile, others could perceive the opportunities and the creative potential of the changes and are often surprised by the unexpected possibilities which suddenly arise.


The surfboard – a tool of agile leadership


Basically, a surfer only needs the right surfboard as a tool. The material entry barrier for this sport is very low. This applies to the digital economy as well. Many of today’s largest Silicon Valley companies were founded by students with little equity. As an agile leader, you have a variety of tools at your disposal. We’ve already worked out the most important key tools, you should have as an agile leader in a previous blog article.

Surfboard as a tool for disruption

As with the digital economy, the material entry barrier at surfing is very low – all you need is a surfboard, basically. Some of Silicon Valley’s top companies were founded with little equity as well.

Next to the tool-set, the associated skills want to be developed as well. A surfer’s main skill is the ability to balance on a moving surface which can only be achieved by a constant and balanced movement. This is cognitively difficult. As a surfer, you develop a sense of balance through a lot of practice. The same applies to an agile leader. The key to stay on track is the ability to react quickly and adequately to the many and rapid changes. Doing this by himself is quite difficult. Therefore he needs additional collaboration skills, such as creating transparency and visualizing things.


Attitude and skillset


Both, the surfer and the agile leader, are only able to gain mastery when tapping into creative potential.

Even more important as a tool-and skillset is the right mindset: the disruption surfer sees a change as an opportunity, acts with others at eye level and with much openness. Even if the disruption waves look threatening to many people in the first place, the disruption surfer says, with brightness in his eyes: “Wow, this wave I’ll take!”

Article by Mag. Gunther Fürstberger, CEO of MDI Management Development International.

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Purpose & Engagement in digital times [Approaches & Tool]

Purpose & Engagement in digital times [Approaches & Tool]

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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Video: agile leadership - orientation and basics

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International leadership development – Insights from United States and Ukraine

International leadership development – Insights from United States and Ukraine

Interview with leadership expert Nataliya Sergiyenko

What are – according to your opinion – the biggest challenges for companies in the United States and Europe?


In my opinion, the biggest challenge in the US is to become client oriented externally and internally. Probably, the US is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to “organizing activities” and processes, especially online. The organizations in the US have tons of information about their clients – if you buy food for your pet for instance – they take your telephone number and email. You buy show tickets online – give them names, addresses, telephones etc. But at the same time, they never make use of it and never ask you what type of pet that you have in order to sell you something else or to strengthen their customer relations. Just a few of those companies try to make a real contact with the customer. We had an experience like this. A month after we bought a new car, the car company gave us additionally a 30-minutes session in order to help us understand how to use all the electronics inside the car. The lady from the company, let’s call her the instructor, was following her procedure. After a while, I forgot the questions which I wanted to ask and didn’t’ buy some additional electronic devices which I really wanted to buy in the first place. Why? Because nobody asked me what I really wanted. In USA they do not offer reprogramming services of car electronics after the car is sold. The car company would win if they would have it in the procedure – “make a contact with a client, ask him/her questions about the needs” and give him what he wants. At the same time, sure, this is a subjective point of view of a newcomer to this huge and rich country.

International leadership development


American companies have to start putting more effort in their customer relationship management and not only collecting information about their customers


For Europe, as it consists of so many different countries, I wouldn’t be able to name one distinctive challenge for the whole continent. But I can talk about Ukraine – the country of my origin, which becomes more and more being the part of European Union. The biggest challenge for Ukraine is to allow young, well-educated, ambitious people to grow professionally inside their own country. For the last 3 years, nearly 4 million people left the country to work abroad.

Ukraine is perceived as a country with well-educated young people especially in the field of software development. One of my clients for instance – a software development company based in Lviv – is growing rapidly. The company has probably now more than 5000 employees. Their customers are mostly situated in the USA. They try to be so much internal customer oriented, and try to create and save their unique culture to attract and to retain talents.


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


It is still a question – how much leadership is an inborn trait, and how much one can learn to be a leader. Let’s suppose that anyway some characteristics are inborn and some characteristics the environment supports, based on the values of the environment. In the US – right from the elementary schools and further – they try to teach and support respect, honesty, loyalty and the ability to follow the rules. And this is great! At the same time, there are many situations where you should speak up, demand higher standards, and reveal yourself. You should not be afraid to be different – this is important if you want to be a leader. Just remember famous American leaders – Martin Luther King with his “I have a dream” speech. Or Steve Jobs who was crazy demanding high standards on everything his people were doing.

“Nice to have” for the US organizations – they should support their people to go beyond the expected rules and procedures. Probably, what I’ve seen in the US, many companies work on stable markets. To go beyond, it’s about changes and development. But if you do not grow, one day the market will kill you.

How is the situation in Europe? Well, the amount of international business headquarters situated in Europe is tremendous. When they operate in their home countries – which again are stable markets – the leader is a person who is able to support the status quo.  When these companies go to the growing markets – they need another type of leadership. The challenge here is to manage the transfer from a stable environment while to a flexible and changing environment. “Nice to have” is to stop trying multiplying strategies and approaches which worked for them in the past. The future is different.


Working as an international trainer – the challenges and the skills you need


What is most important when working as a trainer on an international level and what skills does it take?


To be flexible. Be able to follow before leading. To develop your “sixth sense” – research cultural differences, be attentive and to be sensitive enough to adapt your training to the group you are working with. Once I got an advice from a local taxi driver in Uzbekistan – do not make any critical comments – any at all. It worked, the group blossomed for me like a wonderful lotus. On the second day, they were ready to help each other and give confrontational feedback.


Can you think of any typical challenges and maybe think of some challenging moments you’ve experienced during a training?


Cultural differences, “the training traditions” and different languages, especially the idioms, are the most typical challenge for me. One American group I’ve worked with used so many idioms that I can still remember some of them. For instance, they said their company had to “reinvent the vows”. Usually, when people marry they give each other “vows” – promise to love and take care. So, their 50 years old company had to look at what they promised at the start, and, probably change something to answer the needs of their current customers.

What can help as a trainer is to prepare the slides of the flipchart with written rules and tasks if English is not the first language for the group. My MDI colleagues are doing a wonderful job creating some Power point slides with a vocabulary list in case we give a group some sort of bright metaphors or stories with unusual or uncommon words and terms.

And then there is also a difference of the room set-up between different groups. Some training groups prefer to sit around a big table with their laptops. Other groups are ready to have an open space training without any desks inside. Psychogeography (the location of people and subjects in the space) influences a lot of the training path.


How much does the digitalization really influence the training industry?


In times of the unstoppable digitalization – do you think that classroom trainings will vanish completely at some point? And according to your experience: do you think that e-learning solutions are more developed in the US than in Europe?


I do not think they “vanish completely”. But in the nearest future, a huge part of the training content will be digital. It is the same tendency for Europe, the USA and for Ukraine, as well. Sure, Ukraine has fewer resources for it to happen quickly. But in Ukraine, we are highly oriented on gamification of such sort of digital education, especially in IT companies.


How does the digitalization affect the training industry in general? Which changes/processes are happening at the moment and do you think that companies are ready for this change?


Right now we as training and development companies/specialists need to develop a new set of skills and competencies. Briefly, it is the ability to create useful and engaging digital content. It’s much more being a scenario writer. We need to be able to understand what picture we will put on the screen. Well, probably we need to learn from Hollywood now.


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


The world changes faster than the industry. In order to survive and win, the training industry has to learn faster than the other business world. To learn faster doesn’t mean to run quickly. It means the training industry has to find a creative way of doing it. This is the main challenge.

About the interview partner:

Nataliya Sergiyenko is working as a trainer for more than 15 years and is focused on providing business-trainings for multinational companies. Last year, she left her home country Ukraine and moved to Texas, where she is continuing with working as a trainer for sure. Why she loves being a trainer? “I love to learn. On trainings, participants share their unique experience and knowledge. We have a lot of WOW moments”

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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.

International leadership development

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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How to lead a business through the digital transformation [Development approaches]

How to lead a business through the digital transformation [Development approaches]

Modern technologies have changed our working conditions. Digitalization has become the number one leadership challenge. In order to succeed as a company in times of this digital revolution, a new, agile leadership approach has become a matter of survival.

Whereas the business world used to be rather steady and predictable before the digitalization, it is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA).

Nevertheless, many leaders still employ practices, strategies, and tools that were common in times before digitalization, where leadership was long-term, bureaucratic, hierarchical, directing and instructive.

But – this leadership model is no longer up to date due to the changes in the business world. Specifically, this means that

  • the “internet of things” is real
  • information is accessible to everyone instead of a small group only
  • old businesses close down and new ones open up every day
  • former constants now underlie regular change
  • expertise shows in a well-developed resource-network rather than mere theoretical knowledge


 What are the consequences of the digital revolution for leaders?


Due to the changes in our business world, a lot must change on the leadership level as well. Leadership must be adapted to constant changes and keep track with the latest technologies and trends. But what are now the specific consequences for leaders?

  • Traditional development is expensive and time-consuming
  • Teams need to be empowered; collaboration is essential
  • Development often requires customers to be involved in the process
  • Requirements are constantly changing
  • No clear conclusion, development continues


In short: a new leadership approach is needed.


We need a leadership approach that is natively adaptive to change – and does not build upon past conditions. An approach that does not assume that the world is stable and predictable – but rather is aware of the fact that the fundamental conditions have to be questioned again and again during a project. After all, the future of business-success belongs to those, who know how to use the changes for themselves and to turn challenges into opportunities.


Agile leadership as a new leadership approach


Agile leadership originates from the IT industry, which is an industry that is constantly changing. This leadership approach is designed for fast changing cycles and is using shorter sprints, iteration cycles, and continuous feedback. Agile leadership is driven by transparent processes and developments and supports team-collaboration, communication, and interaction within the team.

What do you need as an agile leader to be successful in today’s world?

agile leader in digital transformation
  1. A new mindset, to see change as an opportunity to create an agile organizational culture, to communicate the „big picture“ and to always be one step ahead of the competition.

Individuals & interactions instead of processes & tools

Working software instead of comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration instead of contract negotiation

Responding to changes instead of following a plan

2. A new skillset, to create the framework and infrastructure for an individual development of each employee.

Skills, an agile leader needs to have


  • Entrepreneurial thinking
  • Strong customer focus
  • Employee focus
  • Teamwork
  • Self-leadership and reflection
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Flexibility
  • Change management competencies
  • Solution competency
  • Leading virtual teams, leading from distance
  • Knowing agile work and management methods
  • High communication competency


3. A new toolset, to successfully implement the theory into practice and maintain an agile organizational culture.

What are the concrete consequences for you as a leader?


Due to the digitization, roles and responsibilities have changed within companies. The market is changing daily and the world is becoming increasingly uncertain. Agile leadership is indispensable in order to be able to assert itself as a company on the market in the long term. However, the successful transition to an agile leadership model requires the full support of everyone involved.

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Personal computers have been used at our workplaces for already 30 years and we all have been using e-mails and the internet for the past 20 years. But why are we only talking about a digital transformation now? And what’s the big deal about it? Is digital transformation just a buzzword?

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Agile leadership

Video: Agile leadership - Orientation and basics

The digitalization has changed our business world in the last years. To master the challenges of the digital transformation, new leadership approaches are needed. MDI trainer and agile leadership expert Alexandra Sock gives a brief explanation about the need for agile leadership and different agile tools.

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Leaving the comfort zone - More courage for more training results

Blog: Implementation of OKR [experience report]

We are working with the agile OKR (Objectives and key results) method since the beginning of 2017.Gunther Fürstberger, CEO at MDI, is talking about the implementation of OKR, the procedure of the different meetings and the current results evaluation.

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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)

What serves you next?

Leadership development in Greece

Leadership development in Greece

International training and development expert Sotiris Karagiannis tell us more about the current situation of leadership development in Greece, the typical challenges at international leadership trainings and much more.

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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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