This month I had the incredible opportunity to speak in Dubai to an audience of over 450 people for the 9th HR Conference put on by Etisalat Academy, the largest single-source provider of training and development solutions in the Middle East.
The attendees included hundreds of forward thinking HR Executives, who wanted to learn more about how HR can take the lead in supporting the C-suite in creating alignment and transformation in their businesses. In addition, in the audience was almost 100 Senior Executives, who were eager to step up and partner with HR. In the front row, there were eight high level diplomats - some of the top people ruling Dubai, who wanted to know 'what was new and groundbreaking.'
As it turned out, the original keynote speaker took ill - I became the opening keynote. Fortunately, my topic - The Alignment Journey - was a perfect set up for the other speakers who covered topics from Innovation and Creativity, to Social Learning, Filling the Pipeline and Pro-activity.
The city of Dubai is everything you see in magazines and on TV. I called it Miami on steroids when I first saw it in daylight after my 16-hour flight. Its skyline, created by the world's best architects - is magnificent.
Minds Wide Open
The conference was in a spectacular hotel located on the Palms, another real estate phenomenon. The audience was eager to listen, and I was ready to share my ideas and frameworks. The interpreter sat in the back of the room in a small booth. Half of the audience understood English; the rest listened through the headsets provided.
My talk contained ideas about a 'new normal' that is emerging around the world. "We are at a time of great change, and the world is discovering we are all connected. Creating environments for candid and caring conversations to take place is essential for all leaders, all countries, and for the world to experience and create shared success."
I talked about the Neuroscience of WE, and the Wisdom of the Five Brains, and how we are connected through conversations. I introduced the notion of "I-centric" and "WE-centric" leadership. This struck a cord, which I learned later was because many of the concepts about the power of the heart, lie deep inside of the Koran. I stepped into a new world of dialogue and conversation - an intersection of business, science and religion - in an auditorium with strangers eager to hear and learn what is fresh and provocative and worthy of discussion...
Turning Doubt into Understanding
During my keynote, one of the Sheiks in the front row raised his hand and asked if I could 'roll back my slides.' He realized I was presenting some new ideas and he wanted to understand the true depth of my comments. He wanted to delve deeper into the distinctions between an "I-centric" and a "WE-centric" leader.
He asked about how I defined "I and WE" and he wanted to know what was good and what was not good about I-centric and WE-centric. He asked out of curiosity, and eagerness to learn, not in a challenging or judgmental way. We were in a dialogue with 450 people listening. I had no idea how important our sharing of ideas was until much later.
I said that when leader's derail - and when their companies start to fail, it's when the leader makes themselves the center of the universe and the dynamics within the organization become all about pleasing the boss. However, when it's "WE-centric" - the company mission and the relationship with their customer become the center of the universe - all work together to achieve outrageous goals. Winning takes on a new definition - and the profits follow. The room was silent - heads were bobbing in agreement - something I will never forget.
We talked a lot about 'having a voice' - and how hierarchy and fear of authority can cause people to feel afraid to speak up. I talked about how important it is for leaders to set the tone, and encourage pushback. I shared that too often 'leaders are the last to know' because people are afraid of them - and so all the observations and ideas that employees might contribute get lost behind the leader's power. When this happens a company starts to disconnect from reality - denial sets in and businesses, at the extreme, go out of business.
Transformation of Everyday Life
My session finished after much interaction with the audience about power, winning, neuroscience of leadership, and the human behavior behind 'why we do what we do.' During the breaks, attendees came over to tell me how thoughtful and provocative the session was. Most of all, people talked about how my session touched their heart.
What I pieced together by the session close was that I gave them a new framework to 'include their heart' in an explanation of how we connect with others - how we connect to history - how we connect to the future. While I was speaking, the audience was listening through a broader lens of history which was more steeped in strong religious beliefs than the place I was speaking from - science and business. As our two perspectives joined in a spirit of open discovery, it ignited a new way of talking about science, relations, life and the future.
After the meeting and my profound conversations with the participants - I saw Dubai in a new way. I saw the people as compassionate, intimate, open, generous of spirit and deeply willing to learn. I felt welcomed, appreciated, and understood.
Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:
Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose; and editor and contributor of 42 Rule for Creating WE, an Amazon bestseller.
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