Dialogue walk at Noordwijk

Five Surprises, Sex just one of them

Sometimes participants meet, connect, and expand … and beautiful things happen. 

This week I had the distinct pleasure to host and facilitate development for six impressive leaders from around the world. The setting was TRAIL, Transparent International Leadership, an open program I offer through De Baak, now in its 12th cycle.

Surprise no. 1: Small group, huge impact

Rather than the usual 12-16, we found ourselves being only 6 participants (and myself) for the opening rituals; all other registrants were apparently struck by urgent reasons not to show. The impact of the small group was profound, allowing us much more time and depth to learn as a team, vicariously through each other’s cases, concerns and opportunities.

Surprise no. 2: Difficult drawings, memorable stories

The opening exercise asks the participants to illustrate four parts of their Coat of Arms, a simplified heraldic shield. With the promise of candid feedback, it is a struggle to draw and a challenge to present. It is also hugely rewarding as each participant’s carefully chosen iconography helps to discover and discuss only the essential details, effectively creating a candid and somewhat catalytic self-portrait. The Coat of Arms takes all morning and, thus, a substantial percentage of the 4-day program, yet it produces an exceedingly robust foundation for all following dialogues and exercises.

Surprise no. 3: Diverse participation, similar problems

With participants from Finland, Holland, England, Rumania, India, and Peru, we expected significant cultural differences – and these we enjoyed. The fundamental challenges of being a leader worth following, however, appeared almost universal, as was evident in our shared expectations towards our bosses, peers, and direct reports.

Surprise no. 4: Extensive experiences, fresh minds

The seasoned participants generously opened their JoHari windows, telling their life stories while asking engaging questions. Complex topics were examined and concluded, of course, in my signature leadership postcards. More importantly, the fine participants used the models in new ways, like turning a mindmap or a checklist into a very operational scorecard. Impressive and effectively making TRAIL even better for future cycles.

It was just two days, sprinting along new and surprising paths with an inspiring curiosity and intensity, I will work hard to maintain in the December module. And, oh yes, the last surprise and a first for me: All six leaders and participants are women.



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