With 2016 nearing its end, the country coordinators and regional leadership met in a leadership conference. The conference schedule was packt full with things to learn, things to discuss and very important things to do.
Before I delve into more details, I really want to thank all the CCs, Georgi Benev and the L3s for making this a great learning experience and a lot of fun, but mostly our RC, Giorgos Trichopoulos, who managed to get us a professional German coach and his Austrian sidekick.
Finally, I want to thank our wonderful host, Milorad “Mojo” Pavlovic, for his care, enthusiasm and a ride from the airport.
What was the purpose of the conference?
Other than socializing and getting to know our peers, the conference aimed at teaching us what a leader is, giving us some tools and good practices on how to do it better and helping us to find real solutions and strategies so we can achieve our goals.
We also learned about different kinds of leadership and ways to manage people, as well as how to better give feedback to others.
The conference dealt with leadership in such a broad way, that Magic discussions were almost nonexistent.
This was my first leadership conference, so to me, that’s the way things get done. In order to understand how it usually is, I asked Ivan:
“Leadership conferences have the goal of getting a smaller group of people who are driving the community together in order to have focused and deeper discussions (that would normally happen at larger tournaments or regional conference). The usual way leadership conferences have been organized was a mix of presentations (like at regional conferences) and meetings. The leadership conference organized in Europe East in winter of 2016 had the same goal: educate and make decisions, but with spins on both topics. Education was done by a half-day training that gave the tools to the participants they would need to lead their countries and areas. Decision-making process used a moderation technique that has a heavy emphasis on focused and moderated communication in small groups. During that time, participants used tools and techniques they learned during the training.”
What was I expecting?
To tell you the truth? I’m not totally sure. My experience with judge conferences is that we have a conference room, every hour or so someone talks about something and we all learn. Usually, I know some of the topics and some of them are new to me. I also thought that we’ll be sharing the state of our countries regarding stores, a number of judges and their levels, certification processes and other “managerial staff” and logistics. I must say the conference was completely different from what I was expecting (much more engaging, interesting and fun).
So, what did we actually do?
On Friday I flew from Israel to Athens, where I met Giorgos. I managed to get a seat next to Giorgos on the plane, so we had some time to talk (at the airport he was working. WORKING!) and discuss my personal growth, some managerial stuff and some Israeli-related issues.
We landed at Belgrade (or by its real name: Beograd – the white city) and waited for Christian and Mojo to arrive (Christian from Vienna and Mojo was our ride to Zemun with the help of a friend. Thanks to Mojo’s friend!).
At the hotel, we met with Georgi and his wife, David Guteša and other early arrivals. After getting rejected from one restaurant that wasn’t prepared for such a large group, we went to a different one, where Giorgos’s braids really amazed the hostess (the first thing out of her mouth when she saw him was “Oh, braids!”) and the live band was good enough for Christian to admit they were less bad than usual.
On Saturday I woke up to breakfast (and helping a local judge with her first GPT as HJ via instant messaging), after which we turned the hotel’s dining room to a conference room.
We had a lot to do, so we started as soon as possible in Balkans standard time. Being passive at this conference wasn’t an option, and to make us understand that, Ivan started by a round of introductions: we all stood in a circle. Each one had to say his name, say something he likes to do while ACTING it, and then repeat and act the names and hobbies of everyone before him. I was third to last. Giorgos went last and claimed to be a failed actor, which he succeeded to act flawlessly. The purpose was to get everybody energized and ready for the long day to come, and the amount of laughter during the exercise did exactly that. It also helped us get to know each other a little better, which was great for me as first-timer.
After the introductions and laughs, we set down to do some real work. We started by writing our expectations from the conference and our thoughts about what a leader is, then each of us stood up, told everybody what we wrote and posted it on the wall (important lesson learned: a post-it can hold no more than two other post-its before it becomes too heavy and it falls off). Other people’s thoughts were very insightful.
Next, we talked about lateral leadership – leading other people without having the formal authority to do it – and how important are personal relationships to achieve it. The main focal point was that in lateral leadership people are not required to obey you, so maintaining good relationships and reinforcing the soft skills (or “people skills”) are crucial.
The next session was about the most important tool in our toolbox: asking questions. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of asking a question is not always to get an answer. There are different kinds of questions, each causing a different reaction in the mind of the person answering. The questions “will you please post the pairings there?” and “Will posting the pairings there prevent the door from being blocked?” seem very similar since the answer to both is probably “yes” or “no”, but the first one will just make someone do what you ask, while the second will make them understand your logic and trust your decision.
Another important use of questions is to understand people’s actions, needs and motivation before explaining yours. When people assume to understand other people’s actions, is dangerous, since they’re judging in their own objective way. A very important lesson I came back from the conference with is to always understand the other side before making them understand you. And remember: to assume is to make an ass of u and me 🙂
Next, we talked about feedback. In the first part of giving feedback, we talked about the factors that influence each decision or action we make, and which of those factors is easier or harder to change. Focusing your feedback on factors the person can change more easily will make it easier to apply and therefore more effective.
The second part focused on the delivery of feedback. The main points are:
- Give your perspective on the specified behaviour, not some general concept
- Be professional
- Give examples
- Try to ask questions to understand the reasoning behind the behaviour (as we said earlier: understand before being understood)
- Suggest an alternative behaviour
- Remember that it’s your point of view and that the other person can choose whether to apply it or not
Lunch time! The place was nice and the food was good. No live band this time.
We came back and played a game where we had to devise a strategy and execute it under pressure. Giorgos became the leader very fast and we followed his lead. After failing several times, we managed to “win”, just to discover that it was all a ploy to teach us about different leadership styles, and give us a chance to give feedback to one another about the way we acted and-and how it affected our chances to succeed. We also got to see how our feedback and our way of thinking is affected by assuming things. If you ask questions and understand things before criticizing, you might find out that other people know something you don’t, and have good reasons for doing things the way they do.
There was a discussion about leadership styles, what they mean and how each should be executed for it to work. The most important thing to understand was that there’s no good style or bad, and none of them is better than the other in an objective way. Each style can be “the best”, depending on the situation and the people involved.
For the last part, Christian talked about a method to achieve goals. Its purpose is to examine the goal in a thorough way to assess whether it’s viable, and if so, how to define whether the goal was achieved or not, and create a plan to achieve it. To exercise it, each one of us came in with a goal relating to our area of responsibility and came out with a plan to achieve it. We first pitched some ideas to the group and checked how feasible each of them was, and then we got separated into three groups, and each group discussed the plan for every group member.
At the end, we looked back at our expectations and shared whether we feel they were fulfilled.
With the serious, yet fun, part of the conference over, we went for dinner and drinks at the restaurant that refused us on Friday and then went to play bowling. A bitter battle of Greece against Turkey ended up with Giorgos winning with two points more than Yakup. From the bowling alley I went to the hotel with Yakup while other people went to a club. I heard mixed reviews in the morning.
Sunday came and I woke up into the realization that the conference was over and people were starting to get on their way home. The remaining people started opening their binders and we actually had some Magic involved. I managed to play some Judge Tower with Yakup before I got a ride to the Belgrade airport.
It was lots of fun, very interesting and really insightful. Since I got back, whenever I make decisions about projects or people in Israel, I can see a clearer connection between my actions and the things we talked about in the conference. I’d definitely go to another conference like this and I truly recommend it. Go to one if you can!
I hope you enjoyed reading this report as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Until next time! (Go-go Athens winter conference!)
A few more memorable moments: