viernes, 30 de octubre de 2009

A QUEST FOR MEANING THROUGH PATHWAYS OF WISDOM

During my lifetime, I have met many bosses but only a few leaders. I have facilitated lots of workshops on leadership but I feel I learnt more from daily people than from charismatic leaders’ biographies. I strongly believe that each of us has a potential leader inside and that life gives us opportunities to discover and develop our inner leader. That is why, in this essay, I will carefully select some meaningful scenes of my lifetime related to my early leadership experiences. Each scene will leave a trace that will let us build an insightful track to comprehend my personal understanding of leadership, which will shed light on my possible future learning trails as a sustainability leader.

I was born in a family of four brothers. It is not easy to be a leader in a family when you are the youngest member. Fortunately, I had diverse role models to be inspired. My father was a strict workaholic Basque engineer and my mother was an Andalusian flamenco dancer. In my secondary school I had a young teacher who really inspired me with his innovative methodologies and facilitating style. He really shifted my paradigms, even although I had no clue about paradigms. During my school time, I was educated in a school where the mainstream sports were football and basketball. As I did not like any of them, I chose to create my own games and invite others to play, so we developed our creativity, exploring fiction worlds in our playground.

Being a teenager, deeply concerned about the violent expressions in my Basque region, I started volunteering in the local peace building movement, where I learnt to plant silent seeds of peace in our community’s hearts in nonthreatening ways, as a leader in the shade, mobilizing thousands of people in peace demonstrations. A few years later, during my undergraduate studies, as human resources manager of the local committee of an international student exchange association, I learnt how to recruit, select, train and motivate volunteers, responsibly spreading enthusiasm and passion.

After my first marketing internship in a French multinational company in the retail industry in Mexico City, I volunteered within indigenous communities in the mountains of Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. Although it is often thought that leaders should change others’ mindsets, while coaching a micro-entrepreneur woman, I noticed that sometimes leaders should humbly let others change their mindset letting go of arrogance. This tipping point experience really changed my mindset and inspired me to assume a lifelong commitment with the poor.

Working as an organizational consultant in a small but innovative Chilean consultancy company, I learnt to simultaneously lead several projects with geographically dispersed cross-functional teams. This allowed me to identify the key elements to control in complex projects, empowering my teams, contrasting expectations, delivering tools, offering trust and support, giving immediate and appropriate feedback. I learnt which levers I should move to foster change in big organizations: people, culture, leaders, indicators, processes, communication, and technology. However, I still remained naïf about the political dimension.

During my three years living and working in the Chilean Andes as Development Director of a Mountain resort, I acquired some intuitive understanding of how to lead multiple external stakeholders, managing others’ agendas, time, expectations, priorities and resources. I developed my storytelling skills to generate sense of urgency in local authorities, translating complex phenomena into a comprehensible language for politicians. I realized as well that leadership means bridge building, connecting disconnected worlds, identifying opportunities in asymmetries of information, opening spaces for interaction and strengthening links between distant networks.

As a social entrepreneur, founding our grassroots NGO, I learnt how to articulate dispersed efforts into win-win initiatives, and how to develop online visibility for invisible small projects to gain credibility and support. During my last consultancy projects I learnt to facilitate processes to co-create shared mental models within public organizations. I realized that the main role as a consultant is to be an external change agent, using the art of posing questions as a catalyst of internal strategic reflection processes.

If I had to summarize in one sentence my leadership learning path, I would say it has been a continuous quest for meaning and authenticity, not only gaining knowledge and skills, but humble wisdom and a deep sense of self awareness of mind, body and emotions. All these learnt lessons helped me to build an intuitive understanding of my future role as sustainability leader in a constant effort to finding equilibrium between tensioned poles. As a parent and husband in a sustainable family, I will have to balance my family needs with my envisioned dreams. As a human being living in a social system, leadership means to balance my self-interest with others' needs. As an entrepreneur, leadership means taking passion and responsibility for my actions. As a consultant, leadership means long term commitment with my clients needs toward sustainable innovation.

Future will be featured by uncertainty and complexity. That is why I hope I will never stop exploring, experimenting and learning, always trying new ways of doing. As I will probably face challenges, failures and successes, I will keep safe the sacred fire of my young purposeful vibrant heart, to get inspired and energized again when I feel exhausted and frustrated. Furthermore, in order to gain personal mastery in handling oscillating processes and cycles of life, I should not let my inner child die, because he will help me to maintain my sense of wonder and truthfulness.
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