Leadership training as a by-product of spending time and energy supporting others with real-life challenges has to be a ‘win-win’. red10’s Piers Carter has just returned from Namibia where he was facilitating leadership training with no ‘PowerPoint’, no management simulations, no table-top problem solving.
Tell us what this was about then, Piers.
‘This was real building, digging and welding; real work in a real school with real clients. Our job was to create a playground for an infant school in a poverty stricken part of Namibia. All in the name of leadership training. We were also going to be teaching classroom lessons and running sports classes with up to 350 mixed-age children many of whom live on site in a series very basic hostels as most of their poor families lived too far away to collect them each day.
What kind of things did the managers you were working with want to get out of the training?
‘Probably a real example would answer that one. We asked all 15 delegates what they wanted to get out of this training whilst we were sat around a camp fire on Day 1.
A London-based manager replied: “I want to go back humbled”.
He said in his role at work he was effective, capable, knew the answers and lived a good life but he wanted more. To be the leader he really wanted to be, he wanted to know the meaning of difficulty and challenge, to know what it was like to find things hard and to struggle, to overcome adversity. He said he wanted to lead in a situation where he didn’t know the answers, where he had to make decisions in the face of ambiguity and to motivate people when things were tough.
What was the learning environment like?
‘Ha ha ha. It wasn’t what you would call a luxury classroom! Most days, we had 37-degree heat. We had limited water for washing and only a hole in the ground for our ablutions. Contact with home was cut off -we lived for a week in a dried up river bed with no access to screens and technology – and we battled the spiders and scorpions in our tents on a daily and nightly basis – but we loved it.’
So what did you and the delegates actually get up to?
‘On a tight budget, against a short time schedule, we delivered a fantastic playground, complete with see- saws, climbing frame, swings, shade netting and 50m of secure fencing.
We painted murals in the children’s bedroom and ran many lessons. We also taught them sports with the donated sports equipment the delegates had previously raised money for.
What are your reflections now you are back home?
We thought we were the ones who were going to be doing the giving to this little community called Okaepe in the Herero land, but actually it was these proud people that gave so much and the delegates took away so much. I believe it is when we face truly daunting challenges that we grow and learn the most, regardless of the outcome. In fact I believe the failures teach us as much as the successes. As Derek Sivers says “If you’re not failing … you’re not learning”.’
So as far as you were concerned, the experience was a success for everyone.
‘The children were delighted and we were all humbled. Mission accomplished.’