Two weeks ago I traveled from the U.S. to Panama to facilitate two days of an ongoing Leadership Development program for a management team that is determined to become MORE than a group of high-performing individuals. The work was grueling yet inspirational – in the sense that team members were absolutely relentless in facing down the behaviors and practices that are in the way of them coalescing and performing as a truly Elite Team. It’s the kind of work that takes everything I have and leaves me completely spent – and yes, it’s what I live to do!
After the workshop, I took an extra day to explore Panama City beyond the magnificence of the Panama Canal expansion project, which I had seen earlier in the week. I was particularly interested in the handiwork of San Blas tribal women who are famous for their hand-sewn reverse applique work, known as molas. The finished molas become part of their bodices, skirts, and even sleeves.
Dressed in traditional costume, living far from their native islands, I found them sitting in intimate sewing circles or behind crude wooden display tables that showcase their work. They hope foreigners like me will buy, and they have modified their traditional patterns with new colors and themes designed to catch our eyes. I choose a colorful depiction of brilliant hummingbirds feasting on the nectar of lush tropical flowers.
I studied my mola, eight layers of fabric deep in some places, and considered the foresight and planning it took to create this relatively simple specimen. The artist had to think and plan from the finished product back to the first step, and layer the fabric and the stitching on in order.
I thought how this creative process is similar to the process leaders must undertake in their organizations. If they are going to generate spectacular results – cause something to happen that wasn’t just going to happen anyway – they need to be able to think from the future. They need to see the end result clearly and then plan from that future into the present so that they, and those who follow them, can execute one step at a time. Step by step, layer-by-layer, they can create extraordinary results.
Then, I thought again to the work I’m doing with the management team in Panama. In effect, we are creating a leadership mola. We know we want to become an Elite Team, characterized by stellar results and strong relationships. We’ve started the layering process, which began with individual 360s and a team effectiveness survey to achieve self and team awareness. After a lot of intense work, we’re anticipating the end result, and we know it’ll be an achievement of which we are all proud.