A Glorious Disaster

My recent Glorious Disaster

I walked into a leadership team workout for a Fortune 100 company this week and was absolutely shocked with the mindset of the people in the room.

I knew that these were very smart people in a successful company with each of them responsible for departments with budgets into the tens of millions.

Yet, the attitude was clear as I began, “Go ahead, lets’ see if you can teach me something.”  As we covered guidelines and expectations, arms were folded and a snide comment emerged, “So, are we going to fall into each others arms today?”

How did they get to this point?  Become so jaded?

I realize everyone goes through some boring training and workshops through life, but at what point is the need to learn relinquished to someone else?  Clearly, many in this group expected me to do all the work, entertain them and get them to learn something.

This is like going to your physical fitness trainer, watching them lift the weights and then expect to have bigger muscles yourself!  We learn by doing and action, not watching and not simply thinking about it.

I will tell you what I did in just a minute but consider for a moment what you would do if faced with a group like this. 

To be honest, I was seriously stressed for a few minutes but had to appear normal because all eyes were on me.

Quick digression – I learned the confidence of standing in front of people by training thousands of facilitators and facilitating for tens of thousands of leaders.  I wish there had been a shortcut but there wasn’t.  So I created one for you almost 10 years ago!  If you want to learn how to create amazing learning opportunities, attend one of our Effective Facilitator Workshops.  The next is in December in Washington DC and I will be the trainer.  Download the PDF if you want to learn more.

Here is what happened and what I will do differently in the future:

Mistake #1 – Assumptions

I had not prepared myself for this group as I had been told they were a heart-centered group that would be receptive.  Whoops.  I have fallen into this trap before yet here I was again!  Baaaad James!

Solution #1 – Do the work up front and NEVER be lazy about preparation.  This includes mental preparation.

Mistake #2 – Lack of Questioning and Discovery

Okay, this is a little funny but tragic for me.  The executive assistant for the COO had recently quit and as a final ‘screw you’ to these leaders, she scheduled an email to go out to the group the morning of the workshop that they would be attending a ‘remedial leadership’ workshop.

Solution to #2 – Be sure to review all communication sent to the group prior to being in front of them.  I could probably not have prevented this, but back to #1, if I am honest with myself, my preparation was lacking.  During the first break, I asked what they had received and was handed a printout of the email.  Wow…

Turn Around #1

I explained my role for the day using the physical fitness trainer metaphor:

Good leaders are life-long learners.  Great leaders look for the learning in any situation.  Legendary leaders create learning for themselves and others.  I am here as your trainer / facilitator / coach.  There will be many opportunities to stretch yourself beyond what you are currently capable of and become stronger as a leader.  But like a physical fitness trainer, if I lift all the weights, your muscles will not get bigger.  You cannot expect to become a better leader or become mentally and emotionally stronger by sitting with arms folded and watching.  I am simply here to provide a leadership workout. You will get out more than you put in, but if you put in zero, you will get zero.

Whether they wanted it or not, I put the responsibility for their success squarely on them in a way that set me up to hold them accountable.  This metaphor works great because everyone can understand and relate to it.

Turn Around #2 – this is where I got them!

I set my agenda aside for the moment and went to a short activity that works every time for me.  It is called ‘Put the Glass Down’.  I created a short video of it recently that you can watch if you don’t know it.

After Turn Around #2, they were HOOKED.  With a short activity, I let them experience the value of learning and more importantly, that they could learn something in our time together because they just had!

Where my agenda got thrown out the window

I was about 20 minutes into the workshop so my overall agenda was fairly well set.  However, I went one step further in my debrief of the activity and used the ‘Put the Glass Down’ activity to review our rules of engagement. 

GREAT idea!  Except… this began a very deep dialogue about their overall rules of engagement, how they treat one another, the recognition (or not) of each other’s good work, the underlying sarcasm in the humor and even into the informal culture that has been created unintentionally as everyone has watched these ‘leaders’ be, in their words ‘quite evil with one another’.

I facilitated this discussion for almost two hours and called for a break.  My agenda was completely ruined at that point, but this group had perhaps their first real conversation EVER.  So who cares about what I had for them, they took to heart what I said that ‘Legendary leaders create learning for themselves and others, and created something truly amazing.  It was probably the best leadership workout they have ever had and, in the end, one of my most challenging which means it was a great workout for me too!

I have been asked to share more of my stories of working with leaders, in workshops and on stage.  Specifically, what has gone wrong and what has worked.

To be honest, I am having a hard time writing some of it because I feel like I am self-aggrandizing.  I don’t mean it that way and sure, I have LOTS of horror stories but it seems our time is more valued if I talk about how to turn things around and make them work for you. 

Please email me and let me know if these stories are helpful and what else you may want to hear that would benefit you.  I could use the feedback!

I would LOVE to be able to share more with you in person at an Effective Facilitator Workshop.  It is an absolute blast and the people who attend are always amazing!



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