I have a brother who works at a call center in Guatemala. But his job will be replaced by artificial intelligence. Or maybe it already has been, since he told me recently of his training for a new position at his job. He used to click on screens and read scripts all day, almost unconsciously acting like a machine. Now that technology has caught up in this sector and his skills may not be needed anymore, he has to figure out his shortest re-skilling path to a new job in the future.
This is an example of how artificial intelligence (or AI) is transforming our jobs in the 21st century. Last year, the McKinsey Global Institute found that artificial intelligence skills in the workforce grew 190% from 2015 to 2017. In their report, the firm showed that six of the 15 emerging jobs had some connection to AI.¹ With “machines taking over the world” in this way, many of us rightly fear that this trend can create a shortage of jobs in every industry and country around the world. But the reality is different. After some exploration, what we really find is a global shortage of skills², which simultaneously creates the chance for many workers today to benefit from this opportunity — provided that they receive proper training to seize it. However, key stakeholders in society need to invest even more in the training of current workers to get them ready for the future.
Colleges and universities are doing their part to meet the need of re-skilling for the future. I am glad to see this because I have two college-age children at Yale University who are preparing for a future when conditions of work will definitely be fluid, and maybe even uncertain.
As of 2017, according to the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centres, more than 200 colleges and universities have launched centers for innovation or entrepreneurship³ to prepare their students for the future of work. This is good news for everyone. In agreement with my peers at the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY), I strongly believe that entrepreneurial activity can teach us what the future of work might look like⁴ and how young generations can thrive in it. When students enroll in our programs, they not only expand their capacity to operate in today’s work environments, but also learn how to constantly update their skills as these environments evolve.
Entrepreneurship teaches us to play, purposefully and not foolishly⁴, in today’s work environments. Students innovators trained at innovation centers can graduate ready for job markets, and not just for graduate school.⁵ When we teach our students to see their future jobs as bundles or agglomerations of skills, they can already start mastering these skills while they work on their innovative ideas on our campus. But we also make them aware of the fact that these bundles of skills can churn quickly⁶, so they can keep the constant need for re-skilling top of mind throughout their careers. Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, shared at a World Economic Forum meeting this year that 100% of jobs in the world will change because of a crisis of skills and a context in which access to talent is more difficult than access to capital.⁷ We believe that student innovators will be ready for this new demand and will be intensely sought after in job marketplaces.
The role of technology is key in this crisis of skills. It is not hard to see that today’s cutting-edge skills are just tomorrow’s mainstream requisites⁸(at best) because of the speed of technological development. But this is not the first time we have seen this occurrence. There have been already two mass extinctions of jobs caused by new technologies: in the hundred years that ended in 1970, the percentage of farm workers in the US decreased by 90%; between 1950 and 2010, the percentage of US factory workers decreased by 75%.⁹ So the question is: Will we see soon a new extinction of jobs due to the evolution of technologies like ride-hailing platforms, self-driving cars, and autonomous trucks? After all, “driver” is the most common job in 29 states of the U.S.⁹ If society does not provide these workers with proper opportunities to upgrade their skills, they may indeed become the new insecure precariat⁷ of the 21st century.
This risk also extends to independent workers participating in the so-called “gig economy,” which accounts for almost 160 million people in the U.S. and fifteen major economies in the U.S. This number is almost 20–30% of the total working-age population, although governments statistics tell us that the number of independent workers is only around 11%.¹ Either way, we are talking about huge numbers of workers exposed to the risk of unemployment or underemployment because of a lack of employable skills. And the same situation happens throughout the rest of the world: Colombia and Vietnam report that 25% of their workforce is comprised of independent workers; Didi Chuxing in China employs 13 million drivers; Upwork connects 12 million freelancers to customers⁷; and ManpowerGroup finds jobs for 3.4 million people every year, half of whom are millennials.⁶ Therefore, perhaps the risk that these many workers face shouldn’t surprise us, although there is a genuine question whether new technological platforms create new jobs or if they are just capturing work that already existed offline.⁷
Will technology lead us down the path of a jobless future¹⁰ and a constant war over talent? I suggest that the war over talent is already here, as the process for the selection of Amazon’s second headquarters recently illustrated. As Mayor Sam Liccardo from San Jose, California, said, ignoring the bidding war altogether: “big companies like Amazon want to be where tech talent is.”²
These somber considerations are too important to avoid. But technology shouldn’t necessarily be equated to an evil force, after all. Technology can be used for good or bad — just like in Star Wars, this “force” can be used for good or bad, and we can choose to become Jedi or Sith Masters.¹⁰ The question, then, is how we are thinking about the positive and negative systemic implications affecting a large portion of our working-age population. Maybe we want to see millions of drivers receive training to become the healthcare providers of the future.¹⁰ But, who would re-train this workforce? What will the cost be? And how will we pay the bill? Government and academia are expected players in this, but maybe the private sector can find an incentive to participate in this process. For example, whether drivers will share the upside of the coming Lyft or Uber IPO processes is an open question. Regardless, we would collectively need to consider how to transform these taxi and truck drivers into a new type of entrepreneurs, who are able to navigate the uncertainties of the future of work (many ride-hailing drivers already manifest an entrepreneurial spirit by multi-homing¹¹ across different platforms and taking risks to optimize their outcomes).
In the future of work, a future when my own children will compete, learnability will determine their employability.⁶ Teaching innovation and entrepreneurship will be crucial for success. We will need to teach, however, a different kind of entrepreneurship that moves away from the behavior of badly reputed, hubris-filled entrepreneurs who dominate many headlines today.⁴ We need to move away from their zero-sum mentality⁴ and approach value generation and capture activities in a different way. We need more collaborative entrepreneurs who can think systemically. And this is why I am so excited to be a part of a team of mentors at Tsai CITY with fire in their belly for the education of the leaders of the future at Yale, through experimentation, re-skilling, and teaching emotional intelligence.
The new building for the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale:
a playground-type, cutting-edge physical space for innovation
David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University, believes that the modern workplace resembles a pre-school classroom.¹² At Tsai CITY, we are supporting the playful (and purposeful) entrepreneurs that society and many job markets desperately need. We are teaching them to learn, re-skill, and play alongside other like-minded students seeking to address real-world problems affecting us all. In this era of artificial intelligence, we also see the need to double down on teaching emotional intelligence to our student innovators, with the goal of creating a healthier and more compassionate society.¹³ After all, the most important barriers to many entrepreneurs are not physical, educational, or financial, but psychological.¹⁴ As students learn to recognize, understand, label, express and regulate their emotions, they also learn to work more effectively in teams, while creating conditions and an environment to test new ideas, to fail, and to try again.
How do you build a mentor network that inspires students from all backgrounds and disciplines in the journey of innovation?
We recently sat down with Victor Padilla-Taylor, Tsai CITY’s new Director of Mentor, Advisor, and Partner Networks, to get his perspective on this question. He shared how his personal journey — which has taken him from the highlands of his home country of Guatemala to the sand mountains in Saudi Arabia and back to the East Rock ridge in New Haven —will inform his work at CITY, as he aims to develop a supportive community of mentors that can meet students where they are in their own explorations of real-world problems and opportunities to solve them. Note: This interview was first posted on medium.com by Laura Mitchell.
Tell us a bit about your new role at the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.
My role as Director of Networks at our brand-new center involves connecting people (not computers, despite the title!) across Yale and beyond. When you think about the four actions that we promote here at CITY — inspire, learn, build, and connect — then you can understand that people come first in our community. My goal is to infuse interactions with excellence and to improve each day our students experience with the help of mentors, our partners across campus, and external advisors.
What were you doing before joining the CITY team?
Right before Tsai CITY, I was a Global Leadership Fellow at the World Economic Forum, an almost half-century-old institution that organizes the Annual Meeting at Davos. At this Swiss nonprofit with a global footprint, I learned the importance of private-public partnerships in creating solutions to systemic problems. I also saw how having diverse voices represented around the table can have a huge impact on the quality of solutions for real-world problems and how “acupuncture points,” or specific interventions, can be tested to change the current outcomes of global systems like trade, humanitarian assistance, and transportation. I have loved the nonprofit space and felt the call to do more than just generate profits since I graduated from the Yale School of Management (SOM) in 2015. Prior to SOM, I worked as an engineer in Latin America, also on networks — but networks of international suppliers and customers.
One of the primary focuses of your role will be growing CITY’s mentor network. Why is mentorship an important component of CITY’s work?
I think mentors are key to what we do at CITY because of the type of students we have at Yale: they are smart, they are creative, and they have big dreams. We have an opportunity to support these students as they work to find a path between their ideas and their big dreams. As mentors, we have a chance to inspire them through times of change, which often requires courage and resilience. We hope to build a mentor network with individuals full of passion for bridging gaps around big, real-world problems and also to help students learn what it takes to manage themselves. Success is not only about the outcomes of innovation as measured through money or actual products or services, but also about the outcomes of education: the development of new student mindsets and the resilience that’s crucial for sensible risk takers.
In your view, what makes a great mentor?
A great mentor is very good at listening before offering advice — I think it all starts with that. It also involves professional and personal disclosure and a willingness to unpack some of the useful baggage that has been accumulating throughout a life of experiences, successes and failures alike, which can be particularly helpful as lessons for students or teams working on taking their ideas to the next level. A third component I could add is caring for people enough to do the little things that are needed to help them move forward. Being a mentor at CITY is not just a job (most of our mentor positions are not paid). It is about loving the opportunity to work with students in their development process and being mindful about the place of influence you hold in their lives.
As you get started in your role, what are you particularly excited to work on?
First of all, I’m really excited to join the team at CITY. The university has brought together an all-star team, with people from so many different backgrounds and with so many different passions. And I’m also, of course, particularly thrilled about getting to know my extended team, the mentors in our network. A lot of work has been done with this community in the past year: just recently, for example, this network grew from 75 mentors to roughly 100. So I’m taking time to get to know these wonderful people and to see how we can better team up to deliver what our students need.
Another thing I’m looking forward to is spending time with the partners we have on campus. They all have unique views of innovation within their spaces of expertise. And I am glad to see that most of them are thinking about innovation beyond apps and gadgets, often building on the university’s strengths in the humanities. I want to understand how they view innovation and mentorship in general, as well as how we can better support them. Embracing the different forms that innovation can take on campus, from the medical school to SOM to arts and drama, we can support a vision of common values and inclusion as One Yale.
Beyond growing the mentor network, your role also involves working to build networks of advisors and partners. As CITY continues to grow, how do you envision it positioning itself in broader ecosystems?
Tsai CITY is meant to be a center of gravity for innovation at Yale. This is a nice metaphor that I have heard for a big mandate at the center. I certainly agree with it. The universe would be boring if it only had one sun and no planets, right? Yet it is also important to be more than just a collection of stars and planets: constellations are more beautiful. I think the great opportunity at our university is that we can interact and collaborate with other centers on campus to achieve even better outcomes. And we can also extend our influence beyond our campus borders to partner with peer institutions and other supporters around the world
I personally envision CITY as a place where we meet our students where they are. By that I mean building a sort of base camp to support their innovation journeys, whether they’re just starting out and seeking information or are more advanced and need to access specific services, resources, or connections to players in specific fields. By growing our mentor network strategically — with experienced trekkers — I think we can achieve this. That’s my dream for CITY.
How can people learn more and get involved?
If you’re interested in mentoring, we have information on our website on how you can connect with us. Beyond that, nothing substitutes the warmth and quality of personal interactions, so even a phone call goes a long way. I’ll be venturing off campus to meet alumni and others interested in getting involved and will be encouraging one-on-one conversations with our partners and mentors-to-be, so that we can get to know each other and see where the best fits are. And of course, if anyone prefers email, I am reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And soon we will start building our new home! The construction of the new location for the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale is slated to begin in December 2018. The new 12,500 square foot, two-story steel and glass building will be located at the southern end of the Becton Plaza behind the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, University Planner Kari Nordstrom wrote in a statement. The building will feature an open studio with a flexible configuration for different events, nine meeting rooms of various sizes, administrative offices and intimate areas to facilitate social interaction, Nordstrom added. Upon completion of the project, the building will seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certification, which is awarded to sustainable construction projects and buildings.
Source: Yale Daily News
In a world that has turned more fractured than before, working at the World Economic Forum as a Global Leadership Fellow (GLF) has given me opportunities to re-evaluate globalization both at the existential and instrumental levels. At the existential level, I see a world that currently seems to be going back to tribalism. The Forum has responded directly to this trend by pointing out to the consequences of a world that moves away from shared values and interests. But there is another instrumental level where globalization is also being recalibrated: leadership and management styles are becoming more fluid because past and highly valued Western values are not recognized anymore as the only benchmarks for success. For every Apple and Facebook out there, there is an Alibaba and WeChat now.
In this context, the Forum has truly been a unique place of professional and personal learning that only a few other places in the world can also be. Every year, the Forum selects a few candidates amongst 6000+ applications to take part in its unique Global Leadership Fellows Programme, which combines intensive work with inspiring learning experiences around the world. The programme is developed in partnership with INSEAD, The Wharton School, Columbia University, London Business School, China Europe International Business School and THNK School of Creative Leadership over the course of three years. And its design and delivery are based on the «Agile Servant Leader» framework, which helps participants to develop self-awareness, a global mindset, contextual intelligence, and the ability to think and intervene systemically in business and societal issues. Grateful for this incredible opportunity, I graduated from the programme on May 2018 with an Executive Master's in Global Leadership.
As a Global Leadership Fellow (GLF), I have changed multiple times my management roles and styles to serve many of our diverse communities. After all, I knew back in 2015 that I had joined the Forum ‘to improve the state of the world’, not to improve the state of ‘my world’. And even though I also knew about the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration, I quickly realized that the convening power of this international organization provided me with an incomparable opportunity to create sustainable impact where business and society meet and work together. I learned to ‘map the issues’ and to identify proper institutional interventions that have the power to make our global systems healthier. I learned systems leadership, its mindsets, approaches and tools.
If you are a leader for business and society (this is the ‘motto’ of my business school at Yale University), there is no shortage of diversity of action at the Forum: from community engagement to project management; from idea generation to insight curation; and from content creation to knowledge dissemination. I feel grateful for the trust I received to add, not to extract, to the Forum’s mission.
Some of this work was uncharted territory for me and I grew in awareness of my choices as I traveled the new roads. And some of this work brought opportunities and the agency to shape my outcomes, even when navigating ambiguous objectives and unclear limits.
After taking detailed stock of my everyday hustle during the past three years, which came on top of four hours of daily commute time between my home in New Haven, Connecticut, and New York City, I truly feel proud about these achievements and about how I managed to ‘struggle well’:
• I interacted with senior executives of complex partner accounts and convinced them to increase their level of engagement in Forum activities.
• I learned to manage and consolidate the outputs of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Logistics and Supply Chains in 2015-2016, which also led my team to entrust me with an evolved version of this group of cross-industry experts: the Global Future Council on the Future of Mobility, whose 25 members I personally interviewed, nominated and onboarded.
• I facilitated the public-private dialogue of experts from the Global Agenda Council with officials from the Government of Panama, which included a mission trip to the country to scope the activities needed to deploy a Logistics Control Tower.
• As a facilitator of an impactful public-private partnership supporting the humanitarian community, I contributed to the expansion of activities of the Logistics Emergency Teams to include disaster preparedness in addition to its emergency response relief and assistance during complex crises.
• I assisted the Logistics Emergency Teams during the 2017 flooding crisis in Peru by facilitating the coordination efforts between this partnership and the government.
• I contributed to the design and delivery of a three-day training workshop in May 2017 for a group of employees of the Logistics Emergency Teams to prepare them to respond to natural disaster crises.
• I participated in the creation and promotion of new narratives to communicate the efforts of the Logistics Emergency Teams activities.
• I scoped the ideation of a new social impact project by organizing two sessions at Forum events (India Economic Summit 2016, Annual Meeting 2017) which ultimately led to its internal approval and support of two Forum Project Advisors who presented bids to launch my idea.
• I coordinated internal Forum resources and those of Deloitte Consulting LLC to deliver the objectives for a project dealing with ‘transportation poverty’ (SIMSystem: Designing Seamless Integrated Mobility).
• I organized three dynamic project workshops on ‘transportation interoperability’ in the cities of Berlin, New York and Japan; I also organized and delivered sessions at an Industry Strategy Officers meeting, two Annual Meetings, one Summit of Global Agenda Councils, two Summits of Global Future Councils and workshops at Mexico City (Enabling Trade), Miami and Dubai (LET training) and New York (launch of Community for Effective Humanitarian Response).
• I coordinated the internal Forum resources and those of the consulting firm Bain & Company to deliver the objectives of a trade facilitation project (Enabling Trade: Unlocking the Potential of Mexico and Vietnam).
• I presented the Enabling Trade Index framework to the Government of Mexico as an approach to their efforts to gain regulatory support for the implementation of the Bali trade agreement.
• I supported the Head of Supply Chain and Transport in growing the Industry community of partner companies, Chief Executive Officers and Heads of Strategy
• I contributed to the launch of the following publications: The New Silk Road, Idea and Concept; Digital Transformation of Industries, Logistics Industry; Enabling Trade, Unlocking the Potential of Mexico and Vietnam; How Technology Can Unlock the Growth Potential along the New Silk Road; Designing a Seamless Integrated Mobility System, A Manifesto for Transforming Passenger and Goods Mobility; Hurdles ahead along the “New Silk Road” (published in Financial Times), also published in the Forum’s Agenda website; “There's one wall Mexico could break down” (published in Business Insider).
• I supported via coaching three female members of the Mobility team on the topic of constructive feedback.
• I collaborated on the translation to Spanish of the First Edition of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” book written by the Chairman Klaus Schwab; and
• I collaborated with Human Resources to represent the Forum at recruiting events at Yale University.
For all these activities, I became a quicker learner, more analytical, more tactful in my communications with others, a better listener and an active examiner of the truth. Often I needed to restrain my overconfidence and leave it out the door. But I recognize that I would not have been able to perform as described above, in the mature and tempered manner often required during stressful situations, without the support and guidance of internal and external coaches and mentors, colleagues and my GLF peers sharing this exciting journey.
Now that I have graduated from the GLF programme, the year of 2018 finds me feeling more passionate about social impact. I hope to continue ‘connecting the dots’ between systemic issues with the help of my acquired systems thinking practice. I trust that with good communications skills, along with my improved storytelling, the next chapter will bring me closer to more opportunities to pitch internally and externally new ideas for the betterment of society.
I have become a believer of the theory of change that system leaders encourage. Sustainable change is not about mission accomplished, it is about creating healthy systems. It is not just about seeing problems; it is also about recognizing patterns. And it is not just about planning and control; we need the capacity to learn and adapt.
I want to continue traveling the journey of a systems leader, who acts holistically and moves away from compartmentalized approaches. Systems leaders push for the search of the hidden causes underneath the visible aspects of a problem, decipher its related trends through time and intervene with modest but carefully designed actions to achieve meaningful and sustainable impact.
The world can be a place of discovery through the application of systems leadership. And this practice can help us give people a sense of agency, direction, hope and collective purpose. For this incredible journey, after assessing my numerous lessons learned, I clearly find that the World Economic Forum is truly a unique place for advanced contextual learning.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by the unprecedented advances in technology transforming the way individuals and groups across society live, work and interact. New principles, protocols, rules and policies are needed to accelerate the positive and inclusive impacts of these digital and technological transformations, while minimizing or eliminating their negative consequences.
Opposition is not an uncommon situation to be found in all areas of public life. But I see every day in the news the intensification of battles in the world. Systems practice could be used to find new ways to navigate these turbulent times towards common social goals.
The recent history of the world had given me hope in the actions of global leaders guiding society towards a peaceful convergence of thought, actions and goals. The Millenium Development Goals, and now the Sustainable Development Goals, are good examples of this. We all want more opportunities and agency for our lives, and these positive goals and the actions of leaders promised to guide us there.
But formidable forces, both operating openly and behind the scenes, are creating events and the constant remapping of global systems in a way that limits our collective capacity to reach agreements. It feels that reaching a destination where we can find more resilience, more education, more health and less poverty for all is only a dream.
Systems practice can return some agency to us. A renowned professor in this field that guided Global Leadership Fellows on this methodology said: systems practice is a new type of technology and architecture of thought that can produce the key insights to guide our navigation through an increasingly connected, complex and chaotic world. Systems practice, as a new modern filing system, stands against the reductionist views of the world where problems stay solved once a solution has been found for the first time. Systems practitioners know better: they are able to recognize the common occurrence of unintended consequences that proves that keeping our conversations open after applying traditional fixes to our problems is a necessity.
I particularly liked the illustration offered around this topic of leaders as ‘circular’ thinkers. This illustration has challenged my own thinking and has prompted to depart from a mindset acquired after many years of training as an engineer. Once engineers learn equations and variables to control in physical and chemical systems, they expect outputs to be produced forever if those systems are provided with the right kind of inputs and controls. Discovering that this is not the way things work for social systems is both refreshing and enlightening. Intuitively, I knew this, and before I found myself conflicted inside. Now learning systems mapping techniques has helped me to understand this reality and has given me more hope and the confidence to lead in these turbulent and modern times.
The learnings from systems practice also enhanced my trust in evidence-based thinking to solve our global problems. I honestly resent and fear at the same time the rising power of false narratives that have overtaken our collective thinking by brute force. Social media has helped these untruths to gain strength, for it only takes a few words on Twitter or Facebook and virtual bots to make these false narratives viral and mainstream. Systems practice is good practice for true leadership because it provides a more realistic 3D view of truth. Systems practice supports evidence-based storytelling. This practice gives me depth to discover upstream causes for the downstream outputs of a system, while also giving me the liberty to expose my assumptions, fight my own biases and discover second order forces in the systems I intervene.
The theory of change supported by systems practice is encouraging. It is not about mission accomplished, but about creating healthy systems. It is not just about problems, but about recognizing patterns. It is not about planning and control, but about our capacity to adapt. The systems practice methodology creates space for discovery and disclosure in a world where so much despair and distrust exists. Feedback finds its rightful place beyond interpersonal and group dynamics as we recognize the existence of interconnected loops between forces in a system. We must recognize this if we are to truly understand a system, its present outcomes and its future possibilities. Change implemented through regular action, growing care and increased knowledge will be more sustainable and impactful. And decision rules must stop being mostly opportunistic and start giving people a sense of direction and hope.
My work at the World Economic Forum has already benefitted from this training on systems practice. I am already using the tools to discuss with my partners the implications of new technologies in transportation poverty (poverty created by lack of transport access), or to explain the importance of establishing new processes of innovation in the humanitarian community. Combined with design thinking skills, systems practice becomes a powerful, creative and inclusive exercise for the communities I manage. I can be an active contributor that catalyzes rich conversations, prompts the right kind of questions and promotes consistent engagement from those who hold the required expertise and the power to create compelling change.
One of my favorite mandates reinforced during my Global Leadership Fellowship is taking perspectives from others. In support of this mandate, systems practice provides me with dynamic boxes inside which I can place these perspectives for the good collective use. Systems practice also invites me to make my listening to others more open and less controlling. After all, control is futile in systems leadership because a solution today can easily become a problem tomorrow. Therefore, I am now more open to accepting that whatever brought me ‘here’ as an engineer, etc., may not be valid anymore to take me ‘there’ as a global leader.
Systems practice is a great tool and proxy for leadership in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times. When most voices today call for friction and either/or positions, systems practice can set us free from the prison of our own cognitive frameworks. This training will be truly useful in my leadership toolkit when guiding others in this era of fractured narratives and more intense battles for the minds of men.
Below is a sample system map created for the question: How might we make investing in humanitarian innovation a mainstream activity for public and private actors seeking to build together social resilience ahead of humanitarian crises?
Members of the network of Global Future Councils meet annually in the United Arab Emirates, and virtually several times a year to monitor trends, identify global risks, discuss ideas and explore interconnections between issues.
(Gemmi Pass, Switzerland) Reaching the summit at GEMMI was an indulgence, an act of rebellion, and extreme political act. While there, I was able to reflect about my own identity as a leader along my peers from the Global Leadership Fellowship Programme. What a privilege! And yes, reflection nowadays is a political act that is much need in our world. The mountains, the snow storms, the silent walks and the group exercises: all things provided me with valuable opportunities to intensely reflect on both my personal and group identities.
Running exercises during GEMMI with people I care much about, and playing together ‘in the arena’ under uncommon circumstances that broke down a few, allowed us to abandon the type of violence that politeness causes in many groups. This unhelpful politeness impedes the joint experimentation on how to express our full range of emotions with the proper amount of energy. Particularly, I tend to exert too much of this energy, and many times I need to remind myself of not overreacting. So, while honoring my own experience, we came together to share this safe space and a deep sense of freedom that provided us with a glimpse to more real group interactions, where our stories as global leaders became demystified.
GEMMI was indeed a place where you can prove that leading others and self-awareness is a contact sport. I was relieved to find out that other members of my cohort are in the same path as mine. Many of us want to ‘get high’, or do ground-breaking work. We are impatient about it, and we are seeking this experience with urgency. We are restless and desiring the autonomy and ownership for this type of work that we think can be more impactful. Salary conditions are important, but only as a baseline. We leave or stay in our jobs not because of our current conditions or the past, but because of our future prospects.
Emotions matter. At GEMMI I found out again that this statement is true even when you share your life with people from different cultures than yours. Or, maybe it is in these situations that emotions matter the most. Our feelings often have layers that usually hide the truth about the impact of our interactions. So, in our safe space in the mountains, we practiced how to peel down these emotional layers to separate the modes of communications that are helpful from those that are unhelpful. For example, ‘feeling frustrated’ turned out to be an unhelpful phrase to use when disclosing emotions, or when providing feedback to others.
At GEMMI, my multi-cultural cohort used experimentation in real life human interactions as a key rule of engagement. These interactions were not like those well-contained simulations where you expect to suffer some ‘gotcha moments’. Our interactions were something else. Our coaches facilitated multiple 1-on-1s and group-think exercises to expand our emotional intelligence capacities. And we did the rest and extracted so much learning. In my case, curiosity proved to be the greatest antidote to reduce the natural tensions that were created. Curiosity proved helpful. Unhelpful behaviors that I tried to stop were: to assume my usual roles as a manner of ‘surviving’ my group interactions; to mindfully take the sidelines in group discussions to let others take control; and, to let myself be bored with topics not so relevant to me. The invitation from our coaches to actively engage with others with a ‘now and here’ attitude did result an act of generosity for others. So I practiced how to use my space and how to be present without overreaching or disempowering others.
This constant attention to our surroundings is not an easy thing to hold. It can be stressful to us sometimes and it definitely takes a toll over our stamina. Yet I learned, or rather remembered from my Basketball years, that practice makes perfect. Truly engaging with others while receiving or giving feedback was a gift to our group, even if many times these were hard things to do. It is tough to receive feedback, especially when it is somewhat unhelpful. Yet without enough stress, learning stops. Each of us has that sweet spot to find. We only need to be mindful of our personal limits, because too much of it can also dampen learning.
The final lesson from GEMMI, as an experience helping me to build my personal theory of interpersonal and group dynamics, was realizing the importance of taking the space you are given in life. When I did not own my space, others occupied it and filled it with assumptions of my motives. In my particular case, since I was given feedback of my strong presence in the group, I noticed that others would interpret my reservations to guide with apprehension, distrust and even fear. My plan to yield my space to others while trying to be a team player was misunderstood and negatively viewed. In the past, I have feared to consume too much airtime in group settings or to be seen as patronizing when leading others. After receiving this Johari’s window feedback, I have found a reason to continue seeking how to regulate myself between the extremes of forcing my leadership and abandoning it. My coach even told me that it was always better to fail on the side of using your leadership. I am called to speak up while empowering others. This is in consonance with my past life story, which I also reviewed with my coach. Intentionally exercising my principled leadership giving a premium to active listening does not mean to be quiet or passive. And it surely does not mean to abandon the arena. I can, in fact, speak up and simultaneously give to others the power of the last word, the power to call their shots. But it takes practice. Experimentation, not perfection, will produce the fluidity that I long for my personal leadership. If I want to improve in using, managing, identifying and understanding emotions, I must be willing to fail along the way.
In conclusion, making sense of what happened at GEMMI is easier when I demystify the experience of it. Personal reflections do not need to happen exclusively in such high places. My everyday interactions can make up for an arena where my willingness to experiment and learn with others can bring about the needed insights for my career. Practice will make perfect, or not. Finding and holding ground in these everyday spaces both in my workplace and personal life will surely have the potential to increase my leadership impact.
Victor Padilla-Taylor is a Global Leadership Fellow from the World Economic Forum and Director of Mentor, Advisor and Partner Networks at Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale
A global soul with MBA experience from GNAM schools around the world