Global leaders learning together!
Global leaders, learning together has exciting possibilities. Our latest trip to Kenya is a testimony to what can be achieved when we all bury our preconceived ‘knowledge bearer’ paradigms and come to an understanding that leaders worldwide have something to offer one another.
Although all the possibilities of this exciting new paradigm still need to be realized, those of us who value participation and togetherness in formulating new leadership paradigms that will
To offer perspective on my understanding of the Western leadership paradigm I offer my thoughts about what I have discovered over the years I have spent working with both local and global leaders. By local, I mean in the United States and also in academia in the United Kingdom. My discoveries relate to the fact that there is much more to learning when it comes to seminars and conferences than the meeting facilities (enormous amounts of money is spent securing lavish, and often theme related conference facilities) number of attendees (the critical mass syndrome –the more people in attendance – the more successful it appears) meals, and high tech presentations. It is my perspective that success relates to some of the following:
- how creatively we can engage those in attendance, such as in dialogue, feedback and in the way in which we communicate a sense of ‘mutuality.’
- recognition that every participant has something to bring to the table of ideas
- relationship building through shared stories and life experiences regarding their contexts
Including some of these things relays a sense of respect for the ‘other’ and moves away from the ‘knowledge bearer’ paradigms that are so much a part of our Western enlightenment history. It has been my experience that this top down communication of knowledge, leaves many who attend our meetings informed but not changed. Facilitating some of the above mentioned factors could perhaps influence what we learn and how we learn it.
Sadly the old model of top down strategies still persists in our daily sharing of information, even in a technology rich, resourced business environment like America. I still hear of people attending mandated seminars or conferences, who come away sighing with relief that the exhausting, week long, ‘bum numbing’ endeavor is over. Not many who attend are challenged, or even necessarily empowered. They are expected in many ways to labor under the hierarchical, knowledge driven culture that has existed for decades. For some reason we seem unaware that we work in a ‘shared power world!’ By this I mean that the knowledge bearers are no longer just the elites with business careers or the academics with letters behind their names, or the authors who have made the New York Times best sellers list. The ‘knowledge bearers’ include those who have knowledge of their own contexts, whose skills, talents and abilities are of a different genre. Their knowledge is perhaps unrelated to books and intellectual know how – their knowledge finds its expression in ‘life world experience’ related to situations with which we are unfamiliar such as the ability to survive in war torn nations, the ability to survive the effects of gender mutilation and sexual abuse and suppression.
Their skills are related to protecting themselves against predators, to restoring their emotional well being after experiencing the trauma of mass killings and gang rape without professional psychological intervention (there is none available), to leaving homes and land at the drop of a hat when driven out by rebels, to surviving a life-time in refugee camps, to forced abortion due to limited child policies, to taking care of up to 26 dependents as is the case with many women in Africa caring for HIV/AIDS orphans. Survival skills that allow child soldiers to reintegrate into society after years of brutal beating, torture and forced killings. Skills we in the West know little about such as how to preserve our dead because no mortuary exists in our rural community.
I have personally had the privilege of meeting leaders with these kinds of skills and this kind of knowledge all over the world - leaders who escaped from tyranny on little rafters, on raging seas. Leaders who bought second hand pillow-slips from the market and turned them into receiving baby blankets to support a family of twenty people - leaders who survived twenty years in the latrine pits due to unjust imprisonment. Leaders who said the reason they carried condoms in their purses was to protect themselves from the inevitable assault of rape - inevitable because there are still people who believe that HIV/AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin.
Often times these leaders have learned to navigate the realities of their world in a way we could only imagine. Help for them is not just around the corner. It comes from the knowledge they have gained through their experiences and yes often times their trust in a ‘God.’
So why do our seminars and conferences still look and feel the same? Why do companies spend fortunes on ‘leadership training and development’ only to have employees spend more time looking at unrelated work emails or updating their facebook page or tweeting about Lady Gaga’s latest video?
Why is it that the majority of the work done to sustain our consumer habits is undertaken overseas? Why is it that something as simple as keeping a balanced budget is out of our reach and yet we see fit to export our leadership training and development programs all over the world – holding ourselves up as those ‘who know?’ I am partly convinced that it is because leaders, especially successful Western leaders love the sound of their own voices. If we would take the time to invite others to our podiums, platforms and pulpits, we may be surprised to find that those on the listening end are enraptured by what (those who are considered to be on the outside) have to say. Perhaps it is because there is a thirst for something fresh and something authentic, something that doesn’t smack of narcissism and pretention. Something that comes from the heart with a humility that says this is what I know but I still have a lot to learn. I believe the time has come to hear from those who for so long have remained silent because we have we have considered them as insignificant.
Thoughts from my time in Africa – November 2012 – Gabriella Van Breda