Leadership Lessons From Poland

One of our recent international trips took us to Krakow, Poland to participate in a conference titled, “Transforming krakowthe World at Work,  An International Summit of Leaders and Practitioners” with participants from 14 countries.  Pathways Poland,  a wonderful young training and consulting firm that courageously took on a "first ever" such event in Poland, (or perhaps in Eastern Europe over all), sponsored the 4-day conference.  They invited their major clients and their Strategic Partner, John Scherer of the Scherer Leadership Center in Seattle, WA. They also invited an international list of OD (Organizational Development) professionals plus a few other educational firms such as 2130 Partners to come, participate, and present.  (As you will recall, we recently posted about John’s excellent book, Five Questions That Change Everything on this blog a couple of weeks ago.) The day after the conference ended we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration and


extermination camps, (actually three camps close together), where over 1.5 MM died.  We’ll spare the details of the camp itself and focus on our main leadership learning, however, we encourage you to read some of the material available on the web to broaden your understanding of the extent and perversity of what happened.

As you can imagine, alot happened on this trip on many levels. The biggest learning we have distilled is related to both the conference and the concentration camp. The learning really focuses on the defining role of vision or purpose.  In the case of the conference, hindsight suggests that many of us brought our own purpose for being there and did not align with the others, either at the start or throughout the event.  This left us at cross-purposes, and created opportunities for upsets and misunderstandings.  While the conference was a great start and a valuable experience, the overall outcome fell short of its potential for many, including the conference organizers.  We were very clearly reminded of the importance of creating shared vision and alignment, especially with a highly diverse group, before setting out to accomplish bold goals such as transforming the world at work. 

The Auschwitz-Birkenau experience was a brutal reminder that, even with a clear purpose, really bad things can happen if the opportunity for input from a variety of constituencies or points-of-view has been denied.  It’s impossible to imagine that the atrocities could have happened if other views within the German culture had been able to influence the German leadership’s course of action.  It is an extreme example of what can happen when those in power shut down differing perspectives. It is clearly quite possible to march the whole team in very dysfunctional directions!

vision pictureWhen we talk about creating a vision or a purpose is that something you actively do with your team? For yourself and your own life?  Are you practicing a Vision-Focused approach to your leadership of your business? Your life? If yes, are you open to input from others? Do those around you feel safe providing feedback that may be uncomfortable or with which you might disagree?  Are you ready to practice cooperation and alignment? Are you still in "command and control" thinking and behaviors?