Trainers as Leaders: Spontaneity, Learning, and Leadership

July 12, 2011

A colleague once suggested that trainer-teacher-learners need to be careful that they don’t lose control of their learning environments and “let the inmates run the asylum.”

Co-facilitating the second meeting of the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Trainers as Business Leaders @Mt.Diablo ASTD special interest group with Diane Fleck last month helped me realize that there are times when the “asylum” does very well with the collaboration of the “inmates.”

Members of that rapidly-growing training and leadership group—which is sponsored by the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter and is open free of charge to workplace learning and performance professionals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area—began our June meeting with a broad-based discussion of the characteristics and behavioral patterns we observe in great leaders. The comments captured much of what comes out of any discussion on leadership: a willingness to give associates autonomy to make decisions; an ability to inspire others and display the sense of inner authority that inspires trust; an ability to connect with and bring out the best abilities in the people being led; knowing how and when to listen; and a willingness to engage in the decision-making process to shape those decisions.

What happened next was far from routine. Group and chapter member Steven Cerri built upon the conversation by describing a workshop exercise he often facilitates to help others become comfortable with themselves so they are more comfortable and effective in leading others. The exercise came out of neuroscientific and neuro-linguistic programming ideas about connections between mindset and physiology.

“There are actually ways you can affect the physiology and change the mindset,” Steven explained. What he does with his learners, he continued, is designed to help us quickly achieve “that comfortable state where you have the sense that you’re moving through the world comfortably, and, in that state, you have much more access to your full capability. Imagine what it would be like to act as a leader from that state. Once you get this really nailed down, you can access it no matter where you are. It’s just that ability to notice. Why not move that way through the world? Why pick anything else?”

Which, of course, raised the obvious question: “Can you run us through that exercise now?”  And which then produced a much-appreciated response: Steven’s agreement to do exactly that in what was a beautifully effective spur-of-the-moment example of delivering just-in-time learning to a group of his own peers.

What Steven did, in the space of a few minutes, was to encourage his eight peers to sit in comfortable positions, relax, and quietly observe what was contributing to that state of being in the world comfortably. Noting our own individual positions—whether we were sitting forward or leaning back, for example. And then thinking about how we might quickly slip into that physical posture at moments when we most needed that sense of being centered to respond to the needs of those we are leading.

The learning continued as we debriefed the experience to note what Steven had produced among all of us: an increased ability to observe ourselves in ways we rarely do; an appreciation for the already strong spirit of cohesiveness among members of the group that made it possible for us to fully engage, spontaneously, in the learning opportunity Steven provided; and an awareness of the strength of this group of leaders in development—our willingness to work as peers in ways that quickly move us from theoretical to practical and personal engagement in whatever topic we are exploring.

“Really effective leaders know how to adjust in real time to what is going on in the room,” Steven observed as the conversation was drawing to a close, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the example he provided will be one that sticks with us and serves us well in the months and years to come.

N.B.—This is the second in an ongoing series about the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter Trainers as Business Leaders group; for information about upcoming meetings, please visit the Chapter website at http://mtdiabloastd.org.


When Trainers Lead: Drawing From the Past to Build the Future

August 19, 2010

A magnificent—and not unexpected—success story is continuing to develop for the trainers-as-leaders at the ASTD Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay Area: long-missing colleagues, including former members of the Chapter Board, are continuing to return to the organization after months or years of absence. More importantly, they are quickly becoming re-engaged in the organization’s growth and sustainability and are offering much needed skills.

Some are becoming formal business partners. Others are considering new volunteer non-Board roles in support of initiatives like special interest groups to serve members’ and prospective members’ professional development and workplace learning and performance needs. And still others are simply being drawn back to the Chapter’s monthly meetings because of the learning opportunities offered by guest speakers at those events.

As noted in earlier articles, this 80-person chapter of the 40,000-member national/international organization (the American Society for Training & Development) with more than 130 chapters in the United States and more than 30 international partners, was near collapse three years ago. A few dedicated Board and non-Board members refused to let it go under, and their (our) efforts have helped to bring it back to its position as a well focused, structurally sound, vital, vibrant, and sustainable community of learners in a heavily populated part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The rewards to the Chapter and its supporters are obvious. Our members go far beyond the usual pay-your-dues-and-run sort of relationship often maintained within organizations. They bring a level of engagement which shapes and nurtures the sort of third place—community meeting place—described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place and the complementary fourth place—a community gathering place for social learning—that several of us are just beginning to define and promote.

Our still-evolving vision of business partners through our Chapter Community Involvement process builds upon existing strengths instead of attempting to create something from scratch through cold calls with those who are completely unfamiliar with what we do and offer. Those business partnerships are a real point of pride for us and serve as an easy model for others to pursue. They begin with us looking at resources far-too-long ignored: Diane Fleck, a former Chapter Board president who became inactive in the Chapter after successfully establishing a business through the contacts she developed via ASTD—not her fault that she fell away, mind you; it happened because the Chapter no longer worked to be an important part of what she needed. That’s a chilling warning for those who don’t know that they’ve got till it’s gone.

Lynda McDaniel, our second business partner, came as naturally as the first: she is a Chapter member with tremendous writing and outreach skills—which she is willing to use on our behalf in exchange for the additional visibility it creates for her. Again, everyone wins. And our latest partners, Steven “Shags” Shagrin and Thornton Prayer through The Networking Lounge, are two consultants who have offered invaluable pro bono organizational development support at critical times in the Chapter’s growth; by acknowledging what they have done in ways that bring them visibility, we’ve nurtured another important relationship while gaining additional resources—including free meeting space—at a time when the number of activities we are scheduling is increasing and free meeting space will be critically important to the success of those events.

So here we are, a small and growing community of learners creating a fourth place for those who want and need it. And all that is needed—how strange and encouraging that what once seemed so daunting now is almost casually dismissed with the phrase “all that is needed”—by anyone wanting to build from this example is a core group of dedicated members who would not and will not give up something that they value; a shared vision which evolves to meet the community’s needs; and a willingness to cherish past resources in ways that re-engage them in the present and the future.


When Trainers Lead: To Market We Go

July 23, 2010

Because trainers and those who use their services often ask what tangible results they produce, it’s a pleasure to note the continuing successes one group—board members of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Mt. Diablo Chapter—is achieving.

While the adoption this week of a Chapter marketing and communications plan might sound about as exciting as watching gopher holes under construction in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (where do people find time to make and post these videos?), it actually serves as another example of what happens when trainers assume leadership positions.

The plan, like the strategic plan Board members adopted earlier this year after more than 14 months of work, is notable for several reasons. It fills an obvious need: helping Chapter leaders, other members, and an evolving group of business partners, collaborate to better serve the organization’s core constituency of workplace learning and performance professionals throughout the San Francisco East Bay Area. It is part of a larger organizational development effort since it is interwoven with the strategic plan and has, as its foundation, a commitment to implementing the Chapter’s mission, vision, and value statements. It was developed relatively quickly and in a way that generated enthusiasm rather than boredom; all that was required were three intensely focused and very productive conference calls lasting less than 75 minutes each and easy-to-accomplish between-meeting activities on the part of a Chapter marketing and communications task force—all in response to a clearly defined mandate with a definitive set of deadlines.

Best of all, it was far from the work of a small group of insiders who were simply egging each other on to produce a document that would gather dust instead of producing worthwhile results. The plan draws from the expertise of current Board members; other Chapter members with marketing, writing, and editing skills; and a successful and respected business partner—Diane Fleck, Founder and CEO of The Learning Café—who had not, until recently, had a formal affiliation with the Chapter in more than five years even though she had served as Chapter President nearly 10 years ago. Flecks’ participation in shaping and now moving quickly to implement the plan provided expertise and a simultaneous opportunity to revive that long-dormant relationship; it also offers the additional benefit of providing a template for additional business partnerships to strengthen the Chapter’s ability to meet and exceed its members’ needs and expectations. Not bad for a process that was originally designed to provide a roadmap for organizational growth and development through better communication with its constituency.

With the ink hardly dry on the document, key Chapter trainers as leaders and other volunteers are moving to maximize the impact of the plan. Joe Novosel, Chapter VP, Communications, posted the document on the Chapter’s website so members and guests would have access to it and so it could serve as a resource to other ASTD Chapter leaders throughout the country. Task force and Chapter member Lynda McDaniel—a second newly acquired Chapter business partner and Founder/Director of the Association for Creative Business Writing—is providing much needed assistance in writing and editing marketing and promotional materials for the Chapter. Fleck is reaching out to her extensive network of contacts to provide additional resources for the Chapter. And all of us on the Board are beginning to breathe a little more easily as we see the incredible workload we have been carrying being dispersed a bit into additional obviously qualified hands—one of the many goals we set for ourselves in the Chapter’s strategic plan.

As mentioned in an earlier article, the Chapter—with collaboration from a variety of interested and dedicated volunteers—has been on a long and steady road to recovery from the threat of extinction nearly three years ago. A partially moribund Board was slowly and steadily rebuilt while the Chapter bylaws were rewritten. Board job descriptions were revised to stress the collaborative approach Board members take to conducting Chapter business. And the strategic plan was created through the same sort of process which produced the marketing and communications plan—formation of a task force which included Board members, other Chapter members, and those who had previously been active in the Chapter but had, for a variety of reasons, drifted away over a several-year period.

Facing the final five months of its existence in its current form, the Board (where members serve overlapping two-year terms designed so that half of the Board’s members are up for re-election or replacement every year and half remain to provide continuity from year to year) will aggressively move forward to build on the Chapter’s successes while seeking even more. And always with an eye on what can be done to promote the Chapter as a sustainable organization offering “a professional, caring, supportive, and fun environment” that is rewarding for anyone involved in workplace learning and performance.


When Trainers Lead: Collaboration and Midyear Reviews

June 20, 2010

The trainers-as-leaders who serve as Chapter Board members for the The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay area took another leap forward last week by reestablishing a dormant connection: the Board voted to create a formal partnership with The Learning Café in the San Francisco East Bay Area.

This collaboration, for all involved, looks to be a positive and significant move in many ways. It reunites the Chapter with The Learning Café’s founder and CEO, Diane Fleck, who served as Chapter President nearly 10 years ago and who credits that experience with having inspired her to found her organization for workplace learning and performance professionals and others seeking to improve their business skills. It brings Fleck’s tremendous marketing and training skills to the Chapter at a time when Board and other Chapter members are seeking to increase awareness of the Chapter’s activities and offerings among its current and prospective members. It brings The Learning Café’s many workplace learning and performance opportunities more directly to the attention of those involved in ASTD locally and regionally. And it continues Chapter leaders’ current efforts to mine the Chapter’s past to assure its healthy future by reaching out to those who played key roles in the Chapter’s development over a long period of time before moving on to other endeavors.

Under the terms of the partnership, Fleck will serve as a formal marketing advisor to the Chapter at least through the end of 2010; help finalize and coordinate implementation of the Chapter marketing plan; and provide public relations support by including promotion of Chapter events in the form of notices within The Learning Café weekly online newsletters, which are directed to more than 7,000 people throughout the United States. The Chapter will keep The Learning Café’s logo on Chapter website homepage, promote The Learning Café’s activities and its Advisor Network on the Chapter website, and keep Chapter members aware of learning and professional development opportunities offered by The Learning Café’s through the Chapter’s own publicity efforts.

The timing for this important step couldn’t have been better. Board members, taking a midyear look back toward the Chapter strategic plan discussed and adopted during the first two months of 2010 after a nearly year-long effort to create the document, confirmed that the overall theme of seeking opportunities to add value to members’ involvement in the Chapter are well underway. Membership remains steady at a time when other ASTD chapters are struggling to attract and retain members, and innovative programming continues to provide what Chapter members seem to value most: learning opportunities which can be used in members’ own workplaces.

Collaboration and building a community of learning have been important elements of what the  Chapter Board set out to do when it was struggling to overcome challenges in 2007 and 2008. Consistent attention to this goal is now beginning to pay off for the organization, and all of us are looking forward to continuing to lead through collaborations for the remainder of the 2010 Chapter Board’s term of office.


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