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

sylwia.lewandowska@mdi-training.com or sylwia@leadershipfestival.com

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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.”

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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
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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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Sotiris Karagiannis is a trainer at MDI with more than 20 years training and consulting experience in Greece, wider Balkans, and the Czech Republic. We talked to him, amongst other things, about the current situation of leadership development in Greece, the differences to Austria and the typical challenges in international training.

 

According to your opinion: What is currently the biggest challenge for an organization in Greece?

 

Sotiris: Undoubtedly, the future gave the prolonged financial recession that has resulted in shrinking household incomes, ambiguity, and pessimism. Also, heavy taxation and the lack of external financing raises high barriers to any Greek company that wants to grow in this turbulent environment.

 

How do you experience that Greek organizations view (international) leadership development at the moment?

 

Currently, the emphasis is on training the front line staff, mainly salespeople. This is understood since companies are currently more concerned about getting sales than training other staff in soft skills.

 

What are the differences between development measures (e.g. digital learning and training) in Greece and, for example, in Austria or Germany?

 

The difference to Austria or Germany is that digital learning is lagging behind. One reason could be attributed to cultural differences between the South and the West. In the South, communication is preferred to be face-to-face –or in general terms physical – than digital. There are hybrid programs though but the demand is not as high as in Austria or Germany.

 

What is the most important skill and what does it take to be an international training and development guide and can you tell us something about typical challenges and give us some tips?

 

I think the typical challenge is how to deal with different cultures. Hence, preparing for a training and development program on an international level should include getting familiar with the culture you are about to meet. In any case, working internationally is a great experience since you expose yourself to different habits and traits and that widens your own perspectives. This is especially important for leadership training and development since each culture may have a different understanding of what leadership really is.

 

International leadership development is a lot about intercultural awareness and empathy. For a training professional doing a module of a leadership program in Greece: What would you as an 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?

 

Greece is a culture with still a high level of power distance and intolerance of ambiguity. People tend to follow their superiors’ orders or advice and there is little emphasis on assuming personal responsibility and taking initiative. Especially today, most employees ‘play it on the safe side’ and don’t take risks since the possibility of failure may have a serious impact on their future.

However, this must not be taken as characteristic of every Greek employee or company. It is wrong to generalize, so for a trainer knowing the culture of the company they would offer their services is absolutely necessary even at the development stage of a program, not to mention the delivery. Also, for a leadership program to be really successful, those who will attend it should have a very high level of awareness of where they personally are as leaders, before they lead others.

 

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?

 

I don’t think that it is possible to train people in soft skills by means of a digital program. It may be that the younger generations process information in a different way from the older ones but I cannot see how a digital training and development program can provide a high level of interaction as a face-to-face. I would see digitalization more as a great supplement to a soft skills training.

 

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

 

There seems to be a need to boost people’s engagement levels more and to provide a working environment that promotes well-being and happiness. Also, raising the levels of the challenge at work is another necessary enrichment to ensure that people do what really excites them and they do not get bored. We have been talking a lot about fighting burn-out but boredom is another serious symptom we need to fight against if we want people to feel engaged and see a purpose in what they are doing

Sotiris MDI trainer Greece
Interview partner

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Leaving the comfort zone - More courage for more training results

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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-factors-of-success

4 strategic factors of success of international leadership development

There are many different challenges when it comes to international leadership programs. In more than 50 years we developed 4 strategic factors of success: concrete need, involve stakeholders, clear and measurable results and trust and long-term relationships …

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International leadership development with Mondi

International leadership development with Mondi

This fall, Mondi will launch its new global leadership training program. The program 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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The 4 strategic factors of success of international leadership development

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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Training evaluation: More courage for more results

Nobody likes to give insights into fields, where problems exist. And due to a mutual comfort zone everybody tends to avoid questions about it. We’re talking about trainers and organisations designing development programs together. For real trainings results as well as positive and direct contribution to business-goals it takes courage – on both sides.

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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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Individual, team and company – agile leadership on three levels

Individual, team and company – agile leadership on three levels

Euphoria on the one and uncertainty on the other hand: In terms of agile leadership you can see great enthusiasm and thirst for action on the market. More and more companies are playing with the thought of implementing agile methods. However, if you ask for more detailed information, many people are uncertain about what this agile concept really is and how meaningful it is for their company. Here are a few thoughts from three different perspectives: the one from an individual, a team and an organization.

 

Agile leadership picks up speed

In my opinion there are three resons why agile leadership picked up so much speed in the last few months.

First of all, companies and teams are becoming more and more aware that they can no longer rely on the state of facts, at least not in the long-term. This means that not everything which is right today, will be right tomorrow. That is the reason why companies need to find a way to react quickly to changes and learn what is relevant and what is not.

The second aspect why this topic is currently gaining importance is that the increasing complexity and uncertainty of the market and the entire company-, product-, and brand world. To be future-oriented, companies must not only be flexible but also try to create innovation and products or services under complex circumstances. By letting people from different teams work together, companies are hoping to find the best solution to this challenge. Interdisciplinary work is a key factor of agile leadership:

Complex markets

Complex and fast-changing markets – companies must learn how to react to those changes

The third reason is a changed view of the leadership culture in general. In the last few years, it has become clear that people want to think and work more independently than they have been allowed to in companies with classic hierarchical structures. Just think about the generation Y and the upcoming generation. The classical understanding of leadership is no longer contemporary. Modern work demands new models and approaches. Agile leadership is one of them.

 

Implementation of agile leadership: top-down or first in the team?

 

When we talk about agility, we generally talk about three levels: the individual level, the team level and the organizational level. Companies must first weigh up whether and how agile methods can be meaningful for them. In this way they can avoid rushing into this topic and subsequently fail with the implementation. Therefore it is important to know that agile leadership does not always have to be introduced throughout the whole company in order to be successful. In the beginning it can make sense to introduce it only to particular teams or divisions. Especially if a team has to deal with very complex and different tasks or has to cover up different topics. The level of complexity is an indicator that makes agile methods either meaningful or not.

 

If the company’s goal is an agile corporate culture, a top-down approach is certainly needed. Therefore, a complete cultural change must take place, which is impossible without the management level on board. The company has to find answers to questions such as who, where, when and how to participate in projects and decisions, how to deal with information release internally and how much the existing hierarchies should be softened. Transparency is a very important factor as well.

 

There is one central question before deciding whether to introduce it top-down or in individual teams: How far do we want to go and how far do we have to go to stay competitive and sustainable?

 

Agile leadership on three levels

 

To recognize potential resistance and prevent them at an early stage, a company should first analyse the three different levels of agile leadership: the individual, team and organization level.

 

Agile leadership on the individual level

As an individual, I have to ask myself following questions: how transparent am I at the moment, how much can I work independently and how much responsibility I bear and can bear. If I currently work in a very hierarchical-oriented team, where there are almost exclusively instructions from the supervisor, the introduction to an independent and agile way of working can be relatively difficult. If I already have a lot of freedom and work almost independently the difference to agile methods is perhaps hardly noticeable.

Secondly you have to question the status quo: How self-responsible and transparent do I want to be? There are certainly many people for whom agile leadership is not (yet) the declared goal and perhaps will never be.

The third point at this level is an open error culture. As a member of an agile team the willingness to acknowledge mistakes very quickly and openly is important because otherwise you might make the work more difficult for all other team members. And for a previously established leader it can be quite difficult not to be the declared leader anymore but to be an equal member of the team. Therefore you renounce power and status.

 

Agile leadership on the team level

The most challenging part for the team in an agile setting is the communication. Constant coordination, exchange and communication among each other are crucial. This requires openness and extraversion of all the team members on the one hand and the right tools on the other hand. When agile methods are introduced to a team, it is worth investing in the communication structure and skills of all members, otherwise many difficulties could arise.

Constant communication – this is absolutely essential in an agile team

Constant communication – this is absolutely essential in an agile team

 

Agile leadership on the organization level

The entire organization must be ready for the establishment of agile structures, to soften hierarchies and to question the status quo. It is important as well to let the employees question the status quo repeatedly. We must remember that not everything that is right today, will be right tomorrow. For the management level of a large company this constant questioning combined with much flatter hierarchies can be of course presented as a loss of control, which is instinctively something to avoid. That is the reason why the introduction of agile methods is probably most challenging on the organization level. It takes a lot of openness and real commitment to move away from rigid rules and procedures in order to become really agile at this level.

 

The role of leadership and the leader in an agile world

Now, you could get the impression that leadership has become useless or counter-productive in this agile world. In fact, one strongly discussed question is whether and how far classical leadership is still meaningful in an agile setting. Personally, I believe that leadership will always be needed – and I am talking about leadership in the sense of controlling and setting framework conditions. However, there is one thing that is different in the agile world: leadership is no longer the job from one individual, but from several people. It is not important who sets the framework as long as one is set. This is necessary so that everyone knows how far he or she is allowed to go and what budget and resources there are available. Thus there is no elimination of the classical leadership but a change in the roll definition and allocation. Leadership is no longer the responsibility of one leader but of all team members. For this, individuals must be willing to hand over control to a group.

 

Conclusion: the right self-assessment as a requirement for agile leadership

The more familiar you are with the topic, the more you realize that agile leadership is not a tool-box or method you can simply introduce, but more a mindset that starts with oneself. The interaction of all participants with each other as well as the relation to their own tasks and the work in general are central. What drives us? How do we work together? How do we deal with each other? How much transparency do we allow? How much control are we willing to take?

Introducing agile methods only makes sense if the answers to all these question already show a glimpse of “agile thinking and if the people who are involved have the right self-assessment: as an individual, team and organization.

Guest author

This article was written by Alexandra Sock for our blog. She is currently living in Vienna and is a managing partner at MDI Management Development International, as well as a passionate trainer, consultant and coach with many years of experience. She is dealing with the topic of agile leadership for a long time already and has now designed an orientation workshop together with MDI. If you are interested in agile leadership you get some insights and targets of the workshop with Alexandra Sock in this video. You are also very welcome to contact her for further information.

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