Executive Coaching in Italy and Switzerland – a look into the present and the future

Executive Coaching in Italy and Switzerland – a look into the present and the future

Alexander Rehm has been working as an executive coach and leadership expert for many years already. He is originally from Munich but lived in Italy for a long time and is currently living in Switzerland. He works as a coach in both countries and knows the cultural differences between them. We talked to him about his work as an executive coach, the role of executives in the digital transformation and the future of face 2 face coachings.

 

You have lived in Italy for a long time and still work there as a coach today. Currently, you’re living in Switzerland. Has your work as a coach and the expectations of your clients, the executives, changed over the past few years?

 

Alexander: 20 years ago, coaching was not an issue at all in Italy. It was more the opposite: anyone who needed a coach was “sick” in the eyes of the others. Italian companies were usually very hierarchical and once someone made it to the top, the person was quite resistant to any “advice” or coaching. Unfortunately, this has hardly changed in many companies until today. Most of my clients work for international companies, therefore their leadership culture is obviously different. The reason for coaching is almost always a result from feedback, either directly from the supervisor or through 360° feedback. In that sense, my work has hardly changed, even though the expectation of me as a coach is going in the direction of consulting. Some clients are genuinely disappointed when I tell them that they cannot only get some advice from me about what they can do better. They actually have to work on themselves to trigger the desired change.

 

What is the situation in Switzerland, what differences do you see between the two countries?

 

In my opinion, the biggest difference between the countries is the attitude. In Switzerland, coaching is a perfectly accepted tool for personal development. I think that Swiss executives are more actively taking on further training opportunities than their colleagues in Italy. As a coach, you may have less need for explanation, but the topics are usually very similar.

 

A very general question: In your opinion, what are currently the biggest challenges that managers in Italy and Switzerland have to face?

 

Leadership has so many different aspects that answering that question could fill an entire book. Therefore, I would like to direct my answer to one topic – and that is the understanding of leadership especially in the context of differences between the generations. Nowadays, we have up to 3 different age groups or generations in a company. Very hierarchical structures and leadership styles are not up-to-date anymore. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a client who told me how difficult it would be to have a good friend as an employee. When I asked him why he thought so, he said that he would feel uncomfortable giving him instructions. So I asked him why he thinks that his other employees would like instructions. I think that’s when something happened to him…

 

Executive Coaching in digital times

 

We live in a VUCA world and digitalization has an impact on many aspects of our lives. In your opinion, how do you have to act as a leader to respond to this change? Is that an important topic for you in coaching?

 

What does digitalization bring with it? Change! Changes or rather the fear of it or even the refusal to face it is always a key issue in coaching. Therefore, I do not see a big difference to a merger, a restructuring, an adjustment of the business model, etc. Something I notice, however, is the lack of understanding, which opportunities the digitalization offers for the companies. It is not (more) about the replacement of the typewriter by a computer, but the integration of all digital possibilities in the business process. In my opinion, many internal but also external change managers should do a better job here.

 

Are you using many digital tools in your coaching and how do you see the future of face 2 face coaching?

 

My coaching is always a mix of face 2 face sessions and short virtual sequences. Often it is about keeping the client involved in the process and therefore, Skype or Zoom calls are the ideal tools. But I am a bit concerned about the large number of offers on the subject of speed or telephone coaching. What makes us coaches, is the ability to hear between the lines – and that is not possible without the perception of body language in my opinion. So I think that also in the future, coaching will be a good mix of digital and face 2 face coaching sessions.

Executive coaching

Online tools can, of course, add some value to a coaching session but what makes a good coach is the ability to hear between the lines and this is not possible without the perception of body language.

You have worked in an international environment in sales and marketing for a long time. What was the reason to start working in the field of human resources development and specialize in leadership development?

 

At some point, everyone is wondering if this is it and what the reason is to get up every day. I was able to live out my passion for human development as the head of a European organization. The results were so encouraging that I – within the group – reoriented myself towards leadership development. The establishment and leadership of the company’s Academy inspired me to live my mission as an independent coach after many years.

Where do you see the biggest challenges in leadership development in the next few years? On the one hand for coaches, on the other hand for executives themselves.

 

Leadership development will (have to) go even more in the direction of personality development. Business schools like IMD in Lausanne or INSEAD near Paris have been recognizing this for a long time. They offer a good mix of management knowledge as well as best practice examples and intensive coaching sequences in their programs. In these sequences, e.g. the results of a 360 ° feedback are discussed in small groups. The coach has a rather moderating role here. The participants are taught coaching techniques based on current practical examples, which help them to strengthen their self-perception. I believe that all of us – leaders and coaches – will need to be even more flexible and willing to learn in the future.

Our interview partner
What are your favorite coaching topics?

Life crisis, leadership problems, the lack of (self) motivation, reorientation, location determination and difficult top managers who believe they know everything but still feel that something is missing.

What motivates or drives you in your job?

I have a strong need to work with leaders, to help them find access to their own issues and to keep them involved in the process. I want them to not only think about possible solutions but accompanying them with the implementation of those solutions.

Do you have a personal motto or slogan?

My mission is to support leaders finding their own purpose

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Transformational Coaching – working with the individual in its whole system

Transformational Coaching – working with the individual in its whole system

Let’s say I have a leadership problem. The solution? I am looking for a coach who can help me solving this problem. But, nowadays coaching is no longer as simple as that. Like in many other industries as well, the coaching industry is undergoing major changes caused by topics such as AI, VUCA, and digitalization. Central for the coaching industry is, that there are no longer stand-alone challenges. Executives have many connections to stakeholders, systems and the environment, where only the best coaches can really provide support.

Inge Simons Transformational Coaching

About the author

Inge is an experienced executive coach and facilitator who works with senior leaders and leadership teams across different industries and countries. The most important thing during a coaching session for her are impactful conversations that enable leaders to make some positive changes within their organisations. She focuses on increasing connectedness and impact as well as successfully navigating change. Her work experience ranges from managing complex international projects and programs through to managing culture and change processes and has intimate knowledge of starting up as well as integrating businesses. She has almost 20 years of international business experience and is working together with MDI Management Development International for about 4 years already.

From the individual challenge to a transformational coaching

 

Like almost every business sector, the coaching industry is undergoing major changes as well. The challenges are changing and so must the solutions, we offer as coaches. Many things have changed since I started working as a coach.

In the past, I worked a lot with individuals and their specific challenges. In a coaching session, we focused on current leadership topics and talked about them. Nowadays, we not only work on the challenges from one person but of the whole system the person is connected with. Instead of solving one specific problem or improve specific competencies, I am rather confronted with a complex system of connections, relevant stakeholders, different interests and structures. As a coach, you have to think beyond the individual. You have to think systematically. This skill was not that relevant in the past.

Generally speaking, coaching is changing towards a partnership approach, such as many other business fields as well. The key is that the coach and coachee really work together as a team. As a coach, you must be able to understand the person as an individual but at the same time as a part of a company and society. During a coaching session, you must permanently switch between these two roles. You can’t ask your coachee to tell you the topic you’re working on today. One could simply say: the individuality has increased massively in recent years when it comes to coaching.

But coaching is not only about strong individuality and a partnership approach. It is about changing things. A coaching should not only transform the coachee but as well the economic environment. Coaching is more than just working on the coachee’s skills.

And: as coaches, we must be faster, more agile and we must adapt our methods to the challenges and needs of our time. So far, as coaches, we have worked a lot with 360° feedback and various analyses. This is actually not so effective because you’re looking into the past with those tools instead of working into the future.

Transformational coaching

As a coach, you have to be much more agile these days to look into the future and not the past

Responsibilities as a Coach – Living a partnership approach

 

The partnership approach, we’ve been talking about earlier, involves certain responsibilities. The times where you went to a coach and spent one hour with him/her are over. As part of this partnership approach, you as a coach have to support your coachee as good as possible, also beyond the coaching session. In my opinion and regarding leadership development, this sentence applies more than ever “The heroic CEO is dead, long live the leadership team”. This is the reality and the reason why my work as a coach has changed. I still have coaching sessions with individuals, with senior leaders, but I work much more with teams and groups of people than a few years ago. Individual coachings are more an additional measure from time to time. This development is exciting and challenging at the same time. You cannot coach someone for a few hours, get paid for it and you’re done. But you can achieve a completely different impact and experience successes together with the individuals and with teams. This change is taking place throughout the whole training and development industry. In most companies, more than 50% of the employees are millennials by now. They have different needs and a much more personalized and individual working approach. In my opinion, the time of training programs, as we know and realize them today, will be over soon.

Excursus: Artificial Intelligence in Coaching

 

The Singularity University has built a new app that makes diagnoses, highly complex diagnoses and sometimes even better than most doctors. Some people may start asking themselves: why should I still go to a doctor? Tomorrow we may be sitting at home, uploading our data via a chip and someone will tell us what to do. In my opinion, this will be the reality in less than 20 years.

AI also affects the coaching industry. If you ask Alexa or Siri “How should I deal with my conflicts?” they will have a lot to say. One effect: you no longer have to tell your coachee all the basics because they can find them on the internet. Another effect: many average coaches will probably lose their jobs because they have been replaced by Artificial Intelligence.

What moves executives today

 

Nowadays, we have this interesting phenomenon that children learn a lot in school they don’t need later in life. Meanwhile, other skills remain on track. For example, the ability to quickly work together with people you’ve never worked with before – beyond nationalities. That’s a skill you cannot cover or replace by the internet or AI – unless we will all be robots at some point. This is a key challenge for today’s leaders. Everything has to be fast, you face a new situation with new teams and stakeholders and you do not even have 6 months to incorporate. You immediately have to get used to the new situation. In this case, we as coaches, can support them with questions such as “Who am I?”, “How do I affect people?”, “What kind of impact can I have?”

Transformational coaching - Interpersonal level

We learn so many things in school, but one of the most important things we don’t – for instance, the ability to work together with different people from different countries.

Nevertheless, the interpersonal relationship is still the focus of the coaching – in all possible forms. Of course, that has a lot to do with communication, whose challenge has increased with the complex systems, we live and work in. People no longer work alone, isolated in their personal “silos”. There is always a connection with partners, not only within the company but also on the outside. This is the reason why everything about cooperation is one of the most important topics during coaching.

Equal to the interpersonal challenges is the time, we currently live in, and all the challenges it brings. Complexity, overextension, the flood of information, aggressive competition, and constant disruption are just a few keywords. So many things are happening at once nowadays. As a leader, you must make sure that your business is running. At the same time, you must be aware of the changes which might come. The speed of change is enormous. Not too long ago, people were starting to talk about VUCA – now it’s here!

When working on a senior level, the question of meaning is central and more present than ever. People are wondering and asking themselves if their work really adds value to the world. “If my life comes to an end, will I be satisfied with what I did in my life?”

 

Coaching in times of disruption – a conclusion

 

We all come from areas where it is said over and over again “This is the agenda.” Based on this agenda, things get told, questions asked and on certain actions will be agreed on. But we all know that many of these actions are never put into practice – whether in a meeting or a leadership program. Now, when we think about what makes coaching meaningful and successful, it’s the following: the moment you take part in coaching, something must happen. We must change our mindset from “I am asking a few questions” to “I am doing interventions right now!” Such an intervention does not have to be big, it can be – for instance – just a sentence that triggers something in the coachee. What’s important is that something is happening and that you try to make a difference in this exact moment.

As long as this happens, as long as coaching creates impact, it will persist – still in times of AI – but at a different level with higher quality.

Dear Inge, where do you see the purpose of your work?

 

Firstly my work is enormously exciting and complex and consistently an adventure. Methodological I always start to work with the principle “We start with the end in mind”. This means that I always try to find out where we have to go. Actually, we never know where the journey of development will bring us and what will happen. That all happens unbelievably fast and this is what fascinates me. I like the complexity and I like working intensively, starting the journey anywhere and find out what it needs to support a person, a team or a company on their way. Most important for me is knowing to have an impact on people and the organization I work with and to make some change. Especially when I think of my kids and their kids. Primarily, I work in the organization sector, in government as well as in non-government and I would like to leave not just chaos for the next generation. I am trying to support the people as good as I can so that they can advance the organization in their way. Therefore, we are all helping to create a better world.

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We are living in a world that is constantly changing. Due to the digitalization and globalization, we are much more connected, which has its benefits but can be challenging as well sometimes. John Livden works as a trainer, mainly in Norway, but as well with international companies. We talked to him and wanted to know more about the current challenges for leaders in Norway, the influence of the digitalization for leadership and development measures and his outlook on the future.

John livden leadership training in norway expert
About the interview partner

John Livden works as an executive coach and leadership trainer. His passion is to work together with people and help them succeed. He enables people to discover their uniqueness and possibilities, inspires them to take charge and full responsibility for their own lives and help them grow into their full potentials as leaders/managers and human beings.

According to your opinion, what do you think are currently the biggest challenges for Norwegian companies when it comes to leadership and how can they master them?

 

John: I think that the biggest challenge is actually the gap between management and leadership. Managing the projects, the people and the organization takes up so much time for leaders. My experience is, that a lot of leaders really feel this pressure. There so many things they have to do and the thoughts they have in their mind. I think that one solution to this problem could be the implementation of new agile leadership styles, where the leadership tasks are not only with the leaders but also with other employees of the company. This has a lot to do with coordination and cooperation between people and the way they work together. Successful leaders should be able to manage the complexity around them and still find time to actually build relationships, to communicate and to be there for their employees.

 

You are working with international companies and leaders. What are the most important skills when working as a trainer on an international level?

 

I think you need to have a good radar. You can’t know everything because you are not native. You have to be aware that you are working together with people from another culture. Try to find connection points and try to understand the differences. And probably most important, always pay respect for their culture. Keep in mind that there could be cultural elements that are inhibiting the learning process which leads to conflicts. In this case, sometimes cultural differences can be a hinder for development. As a trainer and consultant, you have to be aware that you have challenge things from time to time. Make sure to know how to do this in a good way.

 

What would you tell a trainer who has her/his first training in Norway? Do you have any tips?

 

I think, when we are specifically talking about Norway, it is important to understand, that the Norwegian culture and the Norwegian working-culture is very different from, for instance, the German or even the Danish one. Actually, many people see the Scandinavians as one entity, but there are differences between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark as well. We should definitely be aware of this. It is really interesting to see the differences the way people make decisions, how they approach problem-solving, discuss and handle conflicts. For example, the difference in the overall picture between a Norwegian and a Danish, when it comes to a business setting is following: The Danish has a much more continental influence on their business style and is more business oriented, as well as a little bit more formal and hierarchical. Of course, we do have hierarchies in Norway as well, but we have a much more egalitarian view on the work life. The power distance between the managing director and the genitor often seems lower. This is as well a difference to Germany or Austria. They are much more formal in the way they are working and how they are addressing each other. But I think this will also change with generations. In Norway, we are very informal in general, also in the workplace. Some people can also experience it a bit rude, when you really meet in eye level and people speak their mind, in some cases more freely.

leadership development in norway hierarchy

The working-culture in Norway is very different from, for instance, the German or even the Danish one. The power distance between the managing director & genitor often seems lower and the view on the work life is much more egalitarian.

The influence of e-Learning in leadership development

 

So you said that this informal/formal way of addressing will change with generations. We can already see many changes between the generations in companies. Keyword: digital natives and digital transformation. How do see this? How does the digital transformation influence the work life in Norway already?

 

I think, when it comes to the Norwegian society, we are in the middle of the shift. Sometimes I am a little bit surprised when I am working in Germany for instance, and see that they are not there yet. Online we are connected, this is the way we live. But this can be very stressful for leaders, who are for instance 50+. Much more stressful than for a 20-year-old, who is growing up as a digital native and who is working seamlessly with different online platforms and systems. For a leader who did not grow up in this digital time, it could be challenging. It creates some tension between the way how his/her generation is doing things and “the new way of doing things.” All in all, I think that in Norway, we are really getting along with the digitalization on all levels of society. Public services, social security, taxes, the medical system, etc. – everything is online now. It is getting more and more digital and people are getting used to it. When they don’t, this will be a real problem. I have been putting a lot of effort, also in my interest, to use more digital tools.

 

This is something you probably also see as a training and development guide. Are you using a lot of e-learning during your training?

 

It really depends. In this case, I am kind of more a “classical trainer” who loves one-to-one-interaction: physically in the classroom but also in some group-settings. I know, that there are more and more courses available on the internet. E-learning is a component in almost every company. Many companies have e-learning platforms for many different skills, not only leadership skills. Our business world is very digital already, all of it and I think we will see more of it in the future. Besides that, I think that you cannot rely on digital solutions at 100%. For me, leadership has a lot to do with who you are and what you do. You can learn the theory, you can study the method, you can have check-lists but you cannot substitute the factor of human leadership. Leadership development is very closely connected to personal development. It is also about a leader being responsible for his or her behavior, attitude, communication and the way they come across. You can read this in theory but basically, you need to do it in practical life.

So when we are coming back to e-learning, I think that you can study the theory with the support of e-learning but the human interaction is missing. I really embrace the digital shift and I see a lot of positive things and, as I said before, I think that we have just seen the start of it. But we still need the human element. You can automate things and use things such as artificial intelligence but things can go crazy if we leave leaderships just to algorithms. As a leadership trainer, team trainer and organizational development consultant it is very important to have this human factor. This factor is based on relation, experience and knowledge – theoretical knowledge is not enough. This is perhaps also the deviation between leadership as a technique and leadership as an art. There is no 100% right answer to this. It takes a person and a character. In my experience, the most giving leadership development programs are the ones, where we go so close to the person, the leader and where we challenge them on a very personal level. This can be quite deep actually.

 

So would you agree that e-Learning is more an add-on and can be used for theory or as a follow-up?

 

Yes, it can be a real add-on. Also in my consultancy, I have an online platform, where we communicate, share things and thoughts, where I can show videos and so on. But this is something in addition to the personal contact and the group exercises. 

 

How do you think that this will be in the future?

 

I think it will definitely change and we will probably see much more of the digital tools and the digital way of making learning opportunities like virtual reality. Of course, this is something positive. But I also think that we can lose ourselves in being human beings when we just rely on the digital things. Leadership is very practical and it happens in real life and in real life situations, where you cannot control what is happening between people. So there will definitely be surprises and it takes a character to be able to do that.

 

So all in all: What do you think will be the biggest changes and challenges for organizations, for leadership but also for the training and development industry in general?

 

We are living in a dynamic world, in which the demands of the employees will be different in the future. The younger generation won’t be willing to work every day from 9 to 5. This generation wants to be more flexible. Therefore we have to find much more flexible solutions and this flexibility leads to complexity as well. For leaders, it will be more difficult to control the work of their employees and to keep an overview. If you are giving the people more freedom, you are losing some control you traditionally had as a leader. This had been a very huge change and I think we have only seen the start of it. This is one example of what will change in the next years. So it is important to create a company culture, where flexibility is a big part of it. But it is important as well, to be able to be one unit, one company, one organization. Many leaders have already lost and will probably lose some of their formal power and structural power, so what will there be left? Leadership will be more about the relationships, the communication, the flow of things and much more. Leaders have to make up a new mindset and that requires much more agility and the ability to drive in a world that starts to work quite differently than it was in the past.

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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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Leaving the comfort zone - More courage for more training results

Getting out of your comfort zone

How can exposure therapy help you face your fears? Michael is a coach at ComfortZoneCrusher, where he helps clients to become more confident by stepping out of their comfort zone. He told us what exposure therapy is about, how to overcome negative emotions and talked with us about comfort zone crushing in team development. [incl. practical exercises]

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Boosting innovation by developing experts

What's the big deal about digital transformation?

Computers have been in our workplaces for 30 years. We all have been using email and the world wide web for 20 years. So why are we talking about a digital transformation just now? What’s the big deal about this and how will it change our world in the following years? Is digital transformation just a buzz word or more than this?

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International leadership development with Mondi

Video: agile leadership - orientation and basics

OKR, Kanban, Scrum, Design Thinking, Management 3.0, Lean Management…the list of tools and concepts around agile leadership is long and somehow it seems that everybody is talking about it. Alexandra Sock is a trainer at MDI and expert on the field of agile leadership. She gave us a nice overview of agile leadership and the different methods.

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MDI 2025 – Lego Serious Play as an agile method during our team workshop [experience report]

MDI 2025 – Lego Serious Play as an agile method during our team workshop [experience report]

Incredible 40 billion Lego bricks are said to exist in the world. After they conquered the hearts of many children, the small colorful stones are now conquering the seminar rooms in the management & development industry. We wanted to experience this method ourselves. Therefore we had a Lego Serious Play workshop, where we asked ourselves: What will MDI look like in 2025?

 

Impuls Workshop Lego Serious Play – Our Hard Facts

 

Duration: 3 hours

Number of participants: 15

Facilitator: Dominik Etzl

Question: What will MDI look like in 2025?

Framework: MDI team workshop 2018, day 2

Goal: First of all, we are always looking for new agile methods and wanted to experience this one as well. Furthermore, we wanted to find a common vision for MDI in 2025.

 

Think with your hands

 

This is basically the only rule in Lego Serious Play, wherefore it is unstoppable that all participants are starting to build once the little bricks are spread out on the table. But that’s not a problem at all, as Lego Serious Play is not about thinking and planning for a long time, it’s just about doing it.

While our facilitator has given an overview of the method and different fields of application, we have already developed the first buildings within a team. In addition to the intuitive and unstoppable building, we also had some warm-up exercises, with questions such as: What motivates you in your daily work?

Lego Serious Play Teamworkshop Marketing

„It motivates me that we are a team many different characters with different tasks. Nevertheless, we have one important thing in common: we all work at MDI. The cooperation with my colleagues and the helpfulness within the team motivates me every day. ” (Judith, Marketing)

„While building my model, I realized that I do not have a strict division between my professional and personal life. All my different activities and roles in life are symbolized by the different branches in my model. Having the ability to flexibly move around on those branches and combining one with the other motivates me tremendously.” (Julia, Marketing)

Lego Serious Play Julia
Lego Serious Play Teamworkshop Consulting

“When my colleague asked me what motivates me in my job, I shaped a smiley. I think it’s important to be able to laugh a lot, no matter how serious life is. I don’t miss that at MDI. There is a lot of laughter and fun in my work environment, and that is something that motivates me to go to work! Apart from the good mood in the office, we have a great relationship with our clients and coaches! This atmosphere motivates me a lot.”(Valmire, Junior Training & Development Consultant)

Since no specific know-how or skills are necessarily needed to work with Lego Serious Play, we came straight to the point fairly quickly: What will MDI look like in 2025?

In order to obtain different results here, we have divided our team into three groups according to their functions: Consulting, Project Management, and Solution Development together with Marketing. What was the concrete task? Everyone had to build their own vision first. Afterwards, the individual versions were assembled on a large board and supplemented or shortened.

The unstoppable euphoria about building new things has temporarily paused here because the question was complex and we wanted to take some time to think about it. But after a few minutes, all three team tables (Consulting, Project Management, and Marketing + Solution Development) were already starting to build their ideas and visions.

 

The ideas and discussion

 

After 20 minutes, it was time to introduce our future visions to each other. What we quickly noticed was, that new ideas were coming to light – even though we didn’t have a lot of time. The models we built, were the ideal starting point for discussions. We did not only discuss the models within the whole MDI team but also within the small groups and departments.

But what are the next steps for now?

We brought the Lego structures of “MDI in 2025” of all the teams to our office so that the ideas, we collected during the workshop, would not be forgotten. In the next few weeks and months, we will see which ideas will be implemented. However, it is already clear that we did not only get to know another agile method but also gathered many new ideas and motivation for future projects, through this workshop.

FAST FACTS ABOUT THE TOPIC

Why Lego Serious Play?

  • Everyone is actively involved and makes their personal contribution to answering the question
  • Knowledge is taught and the learning effect is enhanced
  • Thoughts are illustrated
  • Tangible models remain stronger and longer in our memory

 

In which areas can Lego Serious Play be used?

  • In the search for new ideas and innovation
  • To create a shared vision and concrete strategies for your own company
  • Team Development
  • Communication, values, and behavior can be reflected by this method
  • To analyze future scenarios in a playful way

What serves you next?

Leaving the comfort zone - More courage for more training results

Development Approaches: Leading a business through the digital transformation

Modern technologies have changed our working conditions. Digitalization has become the number one leadership challenge. Therefore many leaders are facing the question, how to successfully lead their organization through the digital transformation. But what are the consequences of the digital revolution for leaders? And what do you need as an agile leader in this digital times?

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International leadership development with Mondi

Video: Agile Leadership - orientation and basics

OKR, Kanban, Scrum, Design Thinking, Management 3.0, Lean Management…the list of tools and concepts around agile leadership is long and somehow it seems that everybody is talking about it. Alexandra Sock is a trainer at MDI expert when it comes to agile leadership. In this video, she gives you a short overview of agile leadership and the different methods.

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Boosting innovation by developing experts

Experience report: Implementation of OKR at MDI

MDI implemented the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) method in the beginning of 2017. Gunther Fürstberger, CEO if MDI, gives us some insights about the method and its implementation. What were the challenges in the beginning? How does the method work and what’s the difference to other goal management methods?

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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”

What serves you next?

Leaving the comfort zone - More courage for more training results

Leadership Training and Coaching in the Middle East

Laurie A. Santos is originally from California but moved abroad more than 10 years ago and was living in different European and African countries before moving to Kuwait in 2009. She was working there for 7 years and is currently living in the Netherlands. We talked to her about leadership development in the Middle East, how the situation changed since she started working there and the differences between organizations in Kuwait in Europe.

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Boosting innovation by developing experts

Leadership development in South Africa

South Africa is famous for its cultural diversity, the warm hospitality of the people and an impressive wildlife. Although, the country doesn’t have an easy past. Intercultural conflicts are still noticeable in many different situations. We asked Gerard Le Sueur, who is working as a trainer for more than 20 years, about the current challenges, “African leadership” and the differences to Europe.

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International leadership development with Mondi

Leadership development in Serbia

Darko Tot is trainer at MDI and has already more than 10 years of experience in leadership development. When he started working as a trainer, development measures were more seen as a punishment than a benefit for the person. We talked with him about how the situation looks like at the moment, the biggest challenges for organizations in Serbia and international leadership development in General.

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Leadership Training and Coaching in the Middle East – Insights from long-time trainer Laurie A. Santos

Leadership Training and Coaching in the Middle East – Insights from long-time trainer Laurie A. Santos

Working as a Coach and Trainer on an international level can be challenging and needs a lot of intercultural awareness and empathy. What else does it take to work with people, especially leaders, from many different countries? We talked to international leadership expert Laurie A. Santos and got some interesting insights about international leadership development in general and the differences between Europe, the US, and the Middle East.

About the interview partner

Laurie is originally from California but moved abroad in 2006 and had been living and working in Africa, the Middle East and different European countries since then. She has been working as a Corporate Coach & Trainer for more than 15 years and is currently living in the Netherlands but still working on an international level. Her favorite thing about being a development guide? “What I love most about being a development guide is working with the “tough” participant because they force me to test our tools, our tips and techniques, and as such, they help us coaches/trainers prove over and over again that coaching and training do actually work more than anything else.”.

Being a leader in Kuwait – the situation back then and now

 

What are currently the biggest challenges for organizations in Kuwait or the Middle East in general?

 

Laurie: In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges for organizations in the Middle East is actually growing too fast! In the last 9 years in Kuwait and throughout the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), there’s been a lot of development. However, the planning is not always so sound. It is often seen that a number of wonderful businesses get started in Kuwait but unfortunately don’t last so long because the planning behind the business is lacking or not well-thought out. Kuwaitis will even say, “We are great at ideas but not so good at execution.” One of the reason’s Dubai has made such a “dent” is that they have a victorious vision and within that vision are benchmarks and immensely well-thought-out planning. Additionally, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are using the European Foundation for Quality Management’s Excellence Model as an ongoing framework to insure well-thought out and well-constructed implementation of the vision. It often feels a bit more like Kuwait is “flying by the seat of their pants” when comparing to Dubai.

 

You moved to the Arabic Gulf in 2009 and lived there for 7 years. What was your first impression when it comes to leadership development?

 

When I first arrived in Kuwait, I was in awe. But, keep in mind, I had literally just gotten off a plane from Angola where I had been living and working. So when I arrived in Kuwait, I definitely knew I wasn’t in Africa anymore! At that time, when I first arrived, I could immediately feel it was far more organized and developed than Angola as the roads were in good condition, there were huge skyscrapers and lots of malls, restaurants, and boutiques. I entered Kuwait as a consultant for a publishing company. They sent me and my colleague to complete a country report on Kuwait regarding its current status in the world after the Iraqi invasion and thus, I interviewed hundreds of leaders in both the public and private sector—which gave me such a great way to learn all about Leadership from a very “boots-on-the-ground” perspective.

In answer to your question: regarding my first impression about leadership back in 2009, I definitely thought Kuwait needed more female leaders back then. But: let it be known that at the time, they had a female Minister of Education and three female members of parliament. Additionally, in 2009, there was quite a lot of strife between the private sector leaders and the government leaders as private sector leaders felt that the Kuwait government stifled their growth by placing a lot of “red tape” on projects which required permits and permission. Many private sector leaders indicated that they had been waiting for the government to grant permits and the like for 10-20 years. As such, many of their foreign (Western) partners had backed out of deals and left Kuwait (many of these foreign partners were from the U.S. and U.K). Thus, at the time, there was a lot of negativity in the private sector. When I would interview leaders from the government, it was quite different as they were more positive, upbeat and outgoing but honestly, I could see they had it “easy” in their jobs. My impression was that the ministries needed to be audited, streamlined and updated and I still feel the same on this issue present day. Considering Kuwait sits at the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, I do feel they still try to maintain that “neutral” stance and due to this position, they aren’t as forward-moving as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Kuwait has all the potential in the world to be as impressive as Dubai but holds itself back and a lot of this is due to cultural and religious differences within its community itself along with its relationship to Saudi Arabia. It should be noted, however, that Kuwait has been investing a lot of money in Training and Coaching programs for the past eight years. They still have a lot of work to do with respect to realizing that Training and Coaching is a process and not an overnight “fix” or “cure” to problems, as well as not just a mandate but can actually benefit leaders and organizations for the long-term.

 

How did you experience that organizations in the Middle East view (international) leadership development and how did it change since then?

 

There are definitely more female leaders and more woman in the workplace now than when I first entered Kuwait in 2009. It used to be, when I consulted or conducted trainings, I’d often be the only woman in the room. Last month, I conducted a 5-day training for a government institution in Kuwait City and there were actually more women participants than men. That was the first time that I had that happen. Additionally, the vast majority of the woman in my training rooms for the past four years have been and still are uncovered. It used to be that all of my female participants were covered so I do feel we are experiencing major differences among the women in Kuwait with respect to their own values, traditions, and culture. The Kuwaiti millennials have a lot to do with this newfound openness. It used to be that a lot was “hush-hush” and never spoken about (this could be even something as small as asking how a family member is doing) but these days, the Kuwaiti millennials talk about everything rather openly. This has been quite shocking for even me when I return to Kuwait now. However, it’s quite refreshing and promising because I feel this openness is what good leaders are made of and can prevent a lot of the bottle-necking that Kuwait has suffered in the past with its prior leaders and development. Many millennials, however, have expressed that they do indeed suffer due to their open mentality and that they feel there is still a very authoritative style of leadership in their country. They feel frustrated as they bring back wonderful ideas and education from the West and hope to implement this learning in their Kuwaiti organizations but they feel “stamped out” by their older, more authoritative bosses and leaders. As an outside consultant, I do see this, too, and hope the millennials remain persistent.

Cultural differences in the Middle East, Europe & USA

 

You are originally from the US but you were living in Europe before moving to Kuwait and currently living in Europe again. What are the major differences between leadership development in European countries and countries in the Middle East?

 

Great question! I often don’t see much difference which may sound a bit funny yet it feels very true from me. Currently, I reside in The Netherlands and my husband is Dutch. Prior to living in Angola and Kuwait, I was residing in Spain and for a short while in Portugal. Why I say I feel a lot of the leadership style is similar between Europe and the Middle East is because it feels a bit antiquated and slow to move when it comes to innovation, technology and change. It often feels like a lot of resistance and defensiveness with even subtle suggestions of modifying something compared to the US.

A simple example is: In most organizations in the US, employees are either paid weekly or every other week. It is rare these days to see employees paid monthly. I’m from California and even government employees are paid bi-monthly with the exception of State of California employees who are paid once monthly. But, federal, county and city officials are paid twice monthly. The same as in Europe goes for Middle Eastern employees: they are also paid once monthly. There are a lot of studies that describe the benefits and advantages for both organizations and employees of being paid twice monthly (or more). But: in my experience, European and Middle Eastern organizations close their ears and are not open to hearing why. I’m often greeted with the comment, “That’s how we do it here in Europe.” Returning to live and work in Europe in 2016, well, I had thought it was going to be very different than my 7 years in the GCC. I didn’t expect it to feel so similar!

International leadership development

 

Companies in Europe and the Middle East often stick to their old habits and are not as open to new ideas and methods like companies in the US

Another surprising experience has been the pre-judgment that many Europeans have against Americans. I actually think that this has been the most curious or alarming experience since returning to Europe. I don’t remember these stereotypes feeling as strong back in 2007 as they do now. In the States, we don’t have experiences of people saying straight in the face of another, “You do this because you are from this country.” In fact, if one does that, well, there are lots of negative consequences. But here in Europe, Europeans have had no problems saying straight to my face, ‘We don’t like Americans. We find them fake, superficial, and over-the-top.” Thus, I feel cultural sensitivity and tolerance is lacking at least between the countries I’ve been working between since returning to Europe. I’ve mostly been working in Belgium and The Netherlands since returning here in 2016. I often feel that Europeans say these things because they feel we Americans don’t have a culture. In my humble opinion, being polite, courteous, and empathetic are actually core cultural values that mean a lot to us Americans.

One more reason I feel the countries I’ve been working with here in Europe have such a similar feeling with respect to leadership in the Middle East is that they are small just like Kuwait. Therefore they have a focus on teamwork and team-building. Kuwaiti cultural is built upon helping the other, being supportive of the other and doing things together.I don’t feel that’s any different than Belgian and Dutch culture. Dutch culture, for example, has such a strong focus on not showing off, being equal, and having a sense of consensus. Kuwaiti culture has something called “Diwaniya’’ which very special and intrinsic to its culture. Diwaniya is usually a weekly, open gathering, in a leader’s home, whereby, folks come together to discuss business, network with each other, as well as to talk politics. They all sit together (usually on the floor), and if you walk into a Diwaniya, you won’t know who the actual leader is because it has more of a team or consensus “feel” to it.

 

So you’ve been working in different countries on four different continents. What do you think is most important when working as a trainer on an international level and what skills does it take to be an international training and development guide in general?

 

The most important thing to do as a trainer is to always, always, always research the company, the participants and the culture you’re going to work with prior to the training event. I really believe in understanding as much as you can (as a trainer) about the company culture, the culture at large, and the dynamics between the participants and their leaders before entering the training room. Having this information beforehand safeguards the trainer from losing their neutrality and sense of objectivity. It’s very easy for a trainer to be pulled into the drama or negativity of the participants if they aren’t careful. I believe doing the above-mentioned research beforehand keeps the trainer focusing on the course objectives while still maintaining sensitivity for the overall culture and employees’ situation.

The skills it takes to be an international trainer and development guide in general: Risk-taking, decision-making, creative problem-solving, and facilitating. I’m a certified coach, facilitator and trainer and one of the things I truly value is not consulting when I’m giving a training. Participants want us to give answers but the truth is, that’s their job. A good trainer asks open-ended questions and allows time for the participants to work things out themselves. Furthermore, we are not representatives of the companies that the participants work for. That’s why we must be careful not to provide answers because we could present conflicting information from what their company would provide. Thus, I truly believe neutrality is key and to remember that we are not there to “fix” anything. We are there to provide possibilities, options, opportunities, new tools and to inspire them to reframe perspectives.

It’s also important as a trainer and coach to constantly re-educate ourselves. Every year, I put myself through a new training and/or work with a new coach. Thus,  I can always remember what it feels like to be the participant or “coachee.” Additionally, the new techniques, tools, tips and resources we gain by participating in continuing education keeps our work as trainers and coaches, fresh, current, provocative, cutting-edge and fun. I often attend others’ trainings to watch how a trainer handles a tough participant or how they open their trainings. The amazing insight I gain from other trainers is priceless. It helps me never grow bored of this work and I feel my participants can relate better to me because I can relate better to them, especially if I was recently a participant in a course myself. That sense of empathy that we can transfer to our participants is priceless and I feel we can cultivate that empathy and deepen it by always being a student ourselves. Ongoing education gives us as trainers so much: new tools, better techniques, and new ways to deliver the same type of information over and over.

International leadership development

 

Constantly re-educate yourself and participate in different trainings as a trainer is very important – not only to learn and experience new tools and methods but also to know what it feels like to be the participant or “coachee”

 

International leadership development is a lot about intercultural awareness and empathy. As a coach and trainer it is very important to have an intercultural sensitivity. How was it for you moving to Kuwait in the first place?

 

My experience as a coach and trainer has been absolutely wonderful in Kuwait and the Middle East. I think because when I first entered the GCC nobody was doing what I was doing. I was so lucky! I had been trained as a Co-Active Coach back in 2002 in California and this type of work was really not being done in Kuwait at all when I first arrived. So, bringing this work into workshops, with individuals, and in trainings, well, to be honest, it’s why and how I ended up staying in Kuwait so long! I was actually only supposed to be in Kuwait for 3-6 months. Then word started spreading like wildfire about my style of coaching and training that I just couldn’t leave! And, my name started going around the whole GCC because, for them, this style of coaching and facilitating was so unique, new, fun, engaging, and they felt the immediate growth. I really was and am blessed to have entered Kuwait when I did. I’m really grateful I’ve been able to offer this work and still continue to get to go to Kuwait, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Qatar to deliver courses.

 

Are there many differences between Europe and the Middle East when working as a Coach or aren’t there as many as someone from Europe may expect?

 

You know what I’ve noticed about working in Kuwait versus Europe? The Middle Easterners are actually more willing to ‘get crazy” in the workshops! They are way more willing to take chances, to stretch themselves and to throw their comfort zones out the window. I’ve found that here in Europe, the participants have been far more reserved, shy, timid or possibly feel ‘too big” to do this crazy exercise or that crazy activity. Here’s where I see the difference: In the Gulf, it’s okay to stand out, it’s okay to shine. Fellow Middle Easterners love and support great, big-thinking ideas. Here, at least in my experience, in Europe, there’s some “narrative” that if you have a great idea and share, you’re arrogant or showing off. In coaching, we call this “collusion.” There isn’t a correlation between having a great idea and showing off. Sure, it depends on how the idea is presented, but if an individual is simply sharing an idea and offering it to the group as a whole, this is a gift, not arrogance. So, this is one of the most massive differences I can see and feel between the European cultures I’ve been working with and the Gulf.

I think we would believe that the differences between European and Middle Eastern cultures would be that the Middle Eastern cultures would be more conservative in the training courses than the Europeans. However, in my experience, it’s actually been the exact opposite way around. I’ve experienced the Gulf participants to be more open, outgoing, engaged, interactive, willing to risk and stretch themselves than the Europeans I’ve been working with. It’s actually been quite stimulating for me both professionally and personally. Initially, it was quite challenging to return to Europe and experience this as I did not expect this difference at all. The great news is, however, that I am enjoying exploring and finding new ways (to stretch myself!) to appeal to the European participants to help them have radical growth (in their way) in the training and coaching courses

 

“Invest in Rest” – Typical challenges when it comes to working on an international level

Let’s talk about the challenges of this job. What are the typical challenges when working on an international level?

 

One of the typical challenges I have faced is working a lot and not getting enough rest while traveling internationally. It can be tough having to be at the airport so early, then arrive super late in the country where I will be teaching and then have to get up super early the next day and teach a full day or a full 3-5 days after all that travel. That may sound simple but it is one of the major perils of being an international trainer. Trainers often feel they are invincible and can “go, go, go,”. But: we must remember just how much energy output there is when dealing with a room of 10 or even 100 people. There’s a lot of stimulation of our senses and we must always be focused. That focus can only happen with getting good rest and practicing great self-care. I’m a major proponent and advocate of “Always Practice What You Teach”. So, if you’re a trainer who teaches your participants to drink a lot of water, mediate daily, take nature breaks, and go to bed early so you don’t have a lot of stress, then you as a trainer better be doing those things too!

 

Can you think of any challenging situations you’ve experienced and give us some tips how to handle them?

 

The most challenging scenario I can present to you happened to me last year. I got a last-minute request over the Easter holiday to fly from Amsterdam to Kuwait City to give two separate 2-full day trainings through a university for one of their major banking clients. I’ve been working with this university for a long time and have been serving their banking client for equally as long. We had a very wonderful, successful relationship. Although the request was super last-minute, I agreed to accept the trainings and had to create the course material over my holiday. (I was in sunny Spain when the university made the request and thus was working in my hotel room to get them the course material by the next day!). Two days later, I was on a plane back to Amsterdam. The following day, I was flying to Kuwait City. The flight was delayed into Kuwait City and once at Immigration, the entire computer system went down and I was stuck waiting to get my visa until 4 a.m. I arrived at my hotel at 4:30 a.m. and needed to be up at 6 a.m. so I could arrive at my training room by 7:15 to set it all up. I called my coordinator from the university to explain what had happened and asked if I could actually start the course an hour later. This was the first time I had ever made such a request. Honestly, I was nervous to do so, but I figured I’d ask just in case because I knew I literally had no sleep due to the events the night before. My request was declined and ultimately I became very ill during my week in Kuwait. I managed to conduct all the trainings without any problem and on-time but sadly, I truly suffered from extreme illness due to no rest.

The message: Many companies and coordinators feel trainers are super-heroes and they forget we are human. Ask for what you need, set boundaries, and choose which courses to teach wisely. Looking back, I should not have accepted those courses in Kuwait because I was on vacation at the time when I received the request. It meant that in less than a week’s time, I was on 6 flights. My tips are to really evaluate your schedule, know how much rest you need, and if a coordinator can’t cooperate with your requests, it may not be the training for you. As freelancers or independent trainers, we often feel we should or must accept every assignment because we feel we need the money. Be careful of this mind-set! My tip is to ask yourself: Am I operating from desperation here? Or, am I operating from inspiration? Am I taking this assignment because I feel I can help others develop, evolve and grow (including myself) or am I taking this solely for the money? If you’ve answered that you’re feeling desperate and the focus is more about money, my tip is to decline the training. We, as trainers, are messengers to help the other grow and should be operating from an inspired place. If we operate from desperation, the assignment may turn out to be a rather negative experience as mine was above.

Individuals who wish to enter the training industry must always accept its realities. In that, it’s fast-paced, may require long days, long nights, not enough rest, and that it isn’t always easy with every participant. In other words: It’s important to advise newcomers to the Training industry that it isn’t actually always the fun, awesome, dancing and parties we tend to see in social media. Despite this, if we always keep our focus on sharing how it’s truly meaningful, transformative, and deep, we will always maintain our credibility and be able to facilitate that immense growth participants crave. And, with that credibility, we have longevity.

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Unconventional methods in international leadership development

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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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