The hunt is now on for the perfect medium to design and conduct “Natural Learning” programs. Transformational training programs that do not suffer from the “Monday Syndrome”. Programs where the focus is on individuals identifying their personal barriers and going beyond them to elevate their performance in the organisation, across all the roles they are expected to perform. In short, the perfect medium to translate the roles expected from leaders in organisations into reality.
Let us examine the leadership roles one is expected to play in an organisation. It may seem that the role is embedded in the designation but it is not. There are multiple roles that one is expected to play and the multitude only increases as one grows into leadership roles. Just look at what roles we expect the CEO of a company to play – we expect him to play completely different roles when he is addressing the Board, Investors, Business Leaders, Employees, Suppliers, Customers, Unions, and so on. These roles would require very different approaches and a very high level of flexibility.
Which medium creates similar situations and challenges, while providing the perfect setting for natural learning? As I dwelled into this question, a unique medium came to my mind almost by accident – a medium I got trained into by sheer coincidence when I was in college almost 20 years ago and revisited 3 years ago. The medium is Theatre.
As I reflect on my success in leadership roles, I can trace almost everything back to the abilities I built while being trained to do Theatre as part of the Dramatics Section at IIT Roorkee. The interesting thing though is that I was neither aware that I am building these abilities nor aware that these abilities will help me be successful as a leader. All I was trying to do was succeed in putting up a show. Now as I reflect back, I was trained in Integrity, Teamwork, Resource Management, Goal Orientation, Conflict Resolution, Creativity, Self Expression, Confidence, Concentration, Listening, Body Language, and many other abilities. The training was done without setting an objective about what I was being trained into. In fact, even the trainers were not aware. How do I know? Because I became one of those trainers as a senior member of the team. That’s how the tradition went on and it continues till date.
It was a classic case of “Natural Learning” – we had to prepare and present three shows of a play. We had to figure everything on our own. How and where to get the script from? How to assemble the cast? How to train people with no experience of theatre to do a professional performance? How to create the sets with close to no money? How to create dram with lighting with only a handful of spots and dimmers? How to do publicity with no resources? How to manage the daily fights, disappointments, and obstacles? We had to figure out everything on our own. That too at a time when there was no Internet and very limited budgets. However, we learnt, we performed, we succeeded. Succeeded at Theatre and then in life.
I had another experience with Theatre training three years ago. I attended a month long workshop conducted by Ekjute, which is run by Nadira Zaheer Babbar. I had 20 years of work experience by this time and had led organisations of up to 1,000 people. I joined the workshop only because Theatre is my hobby. On the first day, I was joined by a bunch of 40 odd people – from the age group of 16 to 60. This was supposed to be a cakewalk for me, but it was not. I struggled to be creative, express myself fully, shed my inhibitions, work with difficult (as per me) people, and so on. So much so, that I just could not work with of of my team mates for the final performance. There was no choice though, I had to do something about it. I had to go through a painful process of anger, frustration, realisation, reconciliation, and enrolment to finally pull off the performance. I had struggled with this at work and would typically not work with people like that or quit the company. I could not get it resolved then but I could once I did the workshop. Now, I can work with “difficult” people without any issues. This area got transformed for me, among many other areas, during the workshop.
That’s the power of the medium. I strongly believe that we can harness this for leadership development in corporates. We can create a challenging environment which will push the participants to realise and break their barriers and they will learn this naturally. Once they learn it, they will take it back to their workplace without even being aware of the transformation.
We will look at how we can apply Theatre based training to Corporate Leadership Development tomorrow.