Was I really a Leader? A self reflection. Training Course — “ A leader’s journey”

In late January of 2018 I made a bet against a trainer from Ukraine that I would be a youth trainer on a Erasmus+ exchange until the end of the year else I would have to pay her a trip somewhere. The challenge was done so it was time to face it. When the possibility of giving up was starting to overwhelm my mind an opportunity appeared.

Me and the trainer from the bet.

The project was designed by Mariana one of the ‘managers’ of the Associação Juvenil Synergia, an association related with the youth of the city of Braga that focuses on culture, sports and the community in several topics related with that city.

I do volunteering on that association and from time to time I ask them if there is something to do. This time Mariana asked me if I had free time for seven days to facilitate a training course in Vila Real, Portugal. In the past I represented more then once Portugal in this kinds of exchanges so it would be a step forward in my education. A immediate yes came from my side and I needed to rush stuff at work to be able to manage. I work in a company that allows me flexibility in order to allow me to do this kinds of things so had to do extra 40h before staying one week ‘offline’ from work life.

Let’s talk about the goal of this exchange then. The main concept focuses on showing youth people the “path“ of a leader. Everyone can be a leader, some of them natural leaders by default as others require experience in order to reach their full potential. During those days the idea was to present them their unique path towards the goal they were trying to achieve in there. So during those days there had to be a lot of reflection in the theoretical parts and in the practical areas some understanding about certain skills that are required in order to succeed in a team environment. Such skills could be related for example with the concept of teamwork that can be misleading on its true concept in real scenarios.

Before the training started there was some preparation to be done which I never did so it created a lot of stress on me to understand all the ideas behind the project. From reading the project, preparing the exercises and the reflections there was a lot to be done in a “short” time ( at least for me). In any case I could prepare as much as I could and still wouldn’t feel 100% prepared. Every group is unique on its own way so there is always a period of adaptation that comes from both sides that happens in the first days.

The day has finally come. In the morning I went to work some extra hours that were missing in my schedule. Even thought there was a lot of pressure on me I was feeling confident. On the afternoon I prepared quickly my bag in order to arrive in time for the bus.

While I was preparing my backpack I found in my trolley a ring that was given by some huge friends that I met in another exchange, from Egypt that taught me the true spirit of friendship. On my way out from home I stared at it for some minutes because part of me wanted to take it as a lucky charm. Nonetheless it was a sign that I needed some courage to do something new. I left it there because in the meantime I start to regain some trust again to do this new experience.

Arrived in Vila Real I met Sara, the other facilitator that I knew from previous projects to prepare some final details for the next day. That day ended after a nice dinner and some conversations with the participants.

The next day started and with it some name games and team building exercises were made during the morning. We asked the organizer to show us a iconic places of his city while we were making a exercise where you had to ask questions to other random participants in order to ‘break the ice’. An idea I took from Vicky and Ondra that I previously met. Every few minutes we would tell them to switch the person. That way we could learn a bit from others while getting to know a bit of the city we were going to stay for the next seven days.

The back of the group in one of the stops to observe the river.

On the last stop we had the opportunity to get to know some typical desserts from Vila Real because the organiser arranged a special visit for all of us. Props to him for that amazing idea.

On the afternoon there were some introductory exercises like the rules of the training course and the garden of learning used to get to know the fears, contributions and expectations of each participant. This exercise allows the facilitators to judge their performance during the timetable of the course and to adapt to the group in a quiet way.

NGO fair was the last exercise for the day where each country had to introduce the organization their were representing in order to share the main concepts of each org. It was the first time I saw NGO fair being done on the start instead of being on the last day. Because the time on that day was not a lot we improvised to do some kind of NGO speed dating where every 5 min they had to swap with other country and give them a brief presentation.

In fact time was against us all the time being possibly the main problem we faced. The group was super active (which is very unusual to have so many active voices in a single group) in every activity forcing more time than it was supposed to and we had most of the times to shorten the time for reflection. A activity that would take 40 min would add up 20 minutes for example. That created a lot of stress on me and Sara. In order to control time we used many times our voice which by day three was completely recked especially in Sara case. The reality was that forcing my voice a lot of times was starting to get myself frustrated where in the last days I just raised the hands in desperation while waiting for them to stop. Same happened with reflection moments where there were a lot of voices that wanted to speak up which forced us to implement the magic stick rule where they could only talk if they had a special pen given by us.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the only thing that was “killing” a lot of time. There was also the time wasted between lunch and afternoon activities specially in terms of the duration to travel to the locations that were assigned in order to have the activities. The fact for example that we didn’t had the same space for all the days which created a lot of pressure in the realization of the activities on our side specially in what kind of activities we could have done. The logistics are a core factor towards the success of the event. Honestly there could been a lot of improving on controlling the activities times specially while explaining the activities that also took more time then expected. With time it can be easily improved even thought time management is difficult to perfect.

I deal with frustration very badly and the second day was one of those days where in the end of the day I just wanted to leave. It was the day we wasted most time, pretty much an entire afternoon and a lot of frustration came to my mind to the point I felt useless. There was two factors for this event. Lack of communication with the organizer and a lot of bureaucracy going on. There were some formal visits on the municipality and other places that removed the opportunity on making other exercises that we had planned. So in the end of the day there was a serious conversation in order to establish some points and things started to go way more smoothly.

One of the most important exercises at the time was a self reflection that they had to do about their past, present and future as leaders presenting in the end to others their own vision of themselves if they wanted. In order to ease the tension we ask who wanted to speak up voluntarily about their vision. If you pressure people perform there is a high change they will fail. Some of the participants only shared their vision only during the break times discussion the main ideas around it which was nice to hear.

This exercise also allowed them to reflect on the objectives they had planned for this TC and helped us facilitators to enter in the mind of each one of them to see all possibilities.

It is important to note that a lot of times most of us think we are already leaders and in certain periods of time we should try to make an introspective on our performance with questions like Would I follow myself?.

I noticed some participants feeling very insecure and uncertain of their life so I made them the Japanese “cube” personality test for them to reflect a bit more on the matter. It worked with me before so gave it a try to show them some glimpse of light.

Mira sharing her vision of a leader in her life.

Some exercises were create in order to create conflict that sometimes leaders have difficult to experience and most of the times are unexpected and happen in the most strange way. One of them was pirate game, five persons per group where they had to bargain how much money from 100 coins each one would take based on some specific context. There was a hierarchy on the group of pirates from A to E as A being the most powerful and E the less. From being most powerful, A would be the first to propose a deal. If it was denied with majority saying no, he would get throw away from the ship and die. So we had results from the first one would get less money (1 coin ) from the fear of dying to teams splitting the money almost equally or greed where the first two pirates would ‘die’ leaving more chances for the pirates with less power a bigger chance to have more money. There is no perfect solution because all teams and personality from the persons are different making it a unique exercise.

Another exercise we named TIC-TAC was an inspiration from a exercise I made in a previous exchange in Greece used for personal development and with a few changes was able to adapt it for the purpose of this exchange. In 45 minutes they had to face 13 completely challenges that required individual or group work, different skills from the team, a lot communication, leadership as well as task and conflict management.

The 13 challenges the participants had to face.

The idea was to create chaos on the participants and force them to collaborate as a team in order to succeed. Also this exercise allowed to see who were the main voices of the group and which participants wanted to prove themselves as leaders but their voice was not heard.

While preparing the tasks we established the necessity of creating rupture points from different situations in the group environment. One example was forcing them to be silent in a specific time while everyone was busy during their own task. It was a funny moment because some people were simply shouting everyone to be quiet while others were focused on completing their tasks. I had to lower the challenge on one or two tasks because of the complexity of it, e.g the alphabet was too extensive to be possible to make in every language (e.g over 40 more letters in Hungarian, I think).

It was interesting to see the reaction on the participants while I was explaining the tasks. Some of them called me crazy expecting failure but in the end they finished it with 3 minutes spare. With each task completed they had a bit extra confidence which for me was the key for the success adding to good team management from some participants. On the start everyone wanted to speak up and give them their opinion but soon they realized that was not the best way. A few people stood up assigned tasks it was pretty much it. In the end you could see leaders in command, people focused in doing the tasks and people getting a bit lazy or frustrated and not trying to help others after their task was finished. They started by doing the whole group tasks in order to focus after on individual or small group tasks. Thank you Olga/Leila for this amazing exercise.

There was some trouble with a couple of exercises in terms of explanation to the group. The complexity of it and the fact we had to hide some facts even those it was intended gave us some anxiety.

In the last two days we focused on creating small groups in order for them to make projects for the future. There were super interesting projects which I hope that go into development. Personal projects, some ideas for new exchanges and others as a continuation on existing ones. There were two situations that stood out the most for me during this days. First there was a girl that in small groups had some degree of initiative to talk but with a large group or with lots of commanding voices in a group she didn’t talk at all.

In the project she got a group with one of the large voices and she was scared of not having the opportunity to have talk in the project. In fact the opposite happened and they were the group that worked the most ( hourwise ) using all free moments to work and asking us a lot of questions in terms of project planning.

The second was a group that was having issues in terms of adaptation and respecting the voices of others. It happens frequently, I experienced before and it is incredible frustrating. In fact in this group some were asking to leave the group which was denied as part of the learning process. As facilitators we spend some time in order to ease the tension and moderate things for a while. I presented them during the break time an example that happened with myself when I was in university.

Basically I was being overwhelmed with things during a period of my time - studies, family, money, girlfriend, health and associations and I had to time for nothing. On the meantime the president of CeSIUM was asking me to deal with important matters because I was also in a high hierarchy position and every time was saying yes but in the end nothing was never done. That lead to a lot of conflict and distrust for a while easing after a nice reflection from my part and help from the team.

I miss those times and in fact sometimes we need to take a step back, just talk or ask for help in order to have things done. It is something we learn from experience as failures before. They took the advice and after a few hours they were working and ended with a interesting project that can be turned to reality.

In a final reflection we asked them to write a letter for themselves that in one year they have to open. The letter could contain whatever they wanted as long it was to remind them on how to be leaders, the objectives in their life for that year or just future notes. It is already set in the calendar for me to remind them.

One of the presentations.

One of the points of this exchange that looked incredible good was the amount of knowledge shared during free times. There were really incredible conversations during those days and I’m glad there was opportunity for that.

Having in front of you an incredible group I can deny the fact that some participants impressed me for numerous reasons.

Rebecca was super assertive on expressing her opinion which looked super mature for early 20s girl . Very promising in terms of leadership and communication and I hope that she follows something related with it.

Kristóf, for me was the best participant of the group. Very mature and open minded with everyone while giving some cheers to the group, a completely different idea I had on the first days where I thought he was just a troll/toxic person. During some exercises he was the voice of his group. I hope that you keep doing this kinds of exchanges because you inspire people.

Georgios, super intelligent in terms of adaptation to the each situation and a incredible participant in terms of sharing his view. During the project activity he was the one that stood out to manage all the voices of his team and create a nice final product. I hope that you follow my advice to go on a project manager role because it suits you more.

Vithleem was super energetic, a lot of times leading the group that she was in while trying to catch the best of each one of her group colleagues. Clearly a superb future if she keeps this kind of mentality for the future. Can improve in being a little bit stubborn but it is part of the process.

Styliani had very strong opinions about multiple topics and it was a pleasure discussing with her about leadership and real life situations where leadership had to be applied. I hope the example me and Mariana gave about conflict and adaptation during one of the lunches was clear on how hard sometimes groups can be.

In a overall perspective during this short period there were moments that I think I failed and others I succeeded but can’t deny the fact that i learned a lot. This first experience allowed me to see a lot of room that can be improved which is thrilling. I am driven by sharing moments and ideas with others and this gave me the sense of completeness. It felt special because I never felt nervous which is rare as a consequence of bad experiences and fear of failure. Being an observer allowed me a vision that is impossible to obtain from a participant perspective. You have the opportunity to see how people are in their true form or react to each situation and help them reach their true potential providing them a neutral perspective. The connection that you establish as a facilitator is different from being a participant because in the end you are their ‘advisor’ and during those times you are seeking their best in order for them to reach any conclusions. Being a bad or good trainer can give them an idea how they want to pursue objetive from what they experienced.

Delivering the Youthpass and last group photo.

Most of all I gave heart and soul for those 26 people that in some kind of way might got inspired on being leaders for the future and I hope they become super successful in life. If my small contribution helped them succeed in life I will be proud of them and myself. If not I will be always here available to talk with them and help them with their problems.

Thank you Mariana for this amazing opportunity, I hope you enjoyed during the days you were there with us the way I was conducting some of the activities.

Thank you Sara for the feedback on everyday reflection we had. I learned a lot with you and hope we do one more together. Because we were opposite in terms of educational paradigms we formed a good duo and like you said we need a bit more of assertive to reach our full potential and I believe with time we can reach that point. Having someone like you alongside is more then just a learning process is a experience.

Thank you Tiago for the passion you put on this project and people, the music school and in your hometown. Since it was your first project I think you got now a lot of feedback and that will help you for future projects and for that I wish you the best of success.

All the participants for all the care and feedback during the course of the project specially the negative parts which is the things I take a lot more into consideration to improve as leader and person. I hope we met one day again with a lot more of knowledge in our backs to share. I couldn’t be a leader without you present there to participate on this project, and like said before there is no leader without people behind his back to support.

Next stop : reuniting with the trainer from the bet in the end of August for a TC where I am back again a humble participant because this experience made me understand how stressful this experiences can be from the other side.

What comes next?

Improve on being a trainer ( maybe apply for SALTO ) while keep participating in this programs, EVS or living abroad.

Now I understand what my mom “suffers” from teaching kids English.

Paulo. A Facilitator of “ The Leader’s Journey

Software Programmer, Youth Facilitator, Idea Maker