Thursday, September 22, 2005

India - Delayed but finally!

I am home. I have recovered from jet lag and the cold I caught while there.

When I last posted, I had not yet worked with the AIESEC students. I survived it.

I was partnered with Farhan from Pakistan. He was a great partner. Together, we realized we both talk fast. We also realized that our shared MBA experiences made the material seem easier to teach than it actually was.

The AIESEC group is demanding. They are the idealistic young people we all probably were at the age of 21. Their standards are high. They believe they will change the world, instead of the world changing them. I believe there are some in the group of 550 who will maintain their energy and focus, so that they do change the world. I was reminded of my former self in working with them. I was reminded of the idealistic way I viewed the world, before the cynic in me was trained to believe that you must let go of things you can't control.

You may have wondered why it's taken me so long to finish my post. I could cite many reasons, like my busy schedule or writer's block. In truth, though, I have used this time to really absorb my experience.

I have also thought of myself as someone who is very open to new things, people and experiences. I have always believed that I can handle any situation. As an adult, I have often been accused of being over-confident and strong, so I am rarely shaken in a work situation.

The trip to India itself was amazing. The people I met from Cadbury and ABN-AMRO were fantastic, and I will keep in touch with them. However, my experience with the AIESEC students (or at least one in particular) was not as wonderful.

First, let me explain that comment. Farhan and I had prepared for 3 days to facilitate a leadership training on the Johari window, the formation of teams, and situational leadership. We were both fairly comfortable with the material and presenting it because of work experiences. We had a group of 30 students in our class.

The room was not ideal. I am not kidding when I say it was a stage dressing room. Literally, behind the stage, with mirrors and toilets. So, it wasn't ideal. It was also very poorly ventilated. To me, it was hot. When you add that I woke up with a sore throat and fever that morning, you can imagine how well I was taking the day.

Now, add 30 students who have been partying together for the past 5 days. Most were operating on less than 5 hours of sleep. Our group had about 20 girls and 10 guys. They all spoke English, but their mastery of the language varied greatly.

Ok, so it's hot, they're tired, I feel crappy, and it's time to teach.

Luckily, Farhan was there!

We dove in the the students were responding fairly well. For the most part, I would classify them as intelligent and agressive. These kids really do want to make the world a better place. As the discussion of the Johari window progressed, many of the students wanted to focus on how to tell your leader, when they are doing a bad job. Ok, we all know that is never a fun conversation. I made a recommendation to use examples and try to lead your leader to a conclusion, especially if you don't already have a strong or previous rapport built with that leader. Then it happened.

This person (female) asked very bluntly, "Can you give me recommendation that isn't patronistic?"

I was floored. AND, I am really not used to being floored.

The first thing that came to my mind was "how rude!".
Next, "man would I love to put her in her place!"
Finally, "she's waiting for an answer...."

This may not sound like a big deal, but for me it really colored my whole India experience. This woman was American, so it's not a cultural or lack of English problem. If I worked with her, I would have pulled her aside and asked her to try not to be rude in front of others. BUT, I don't work with her. She saw nothing wrong with her question. She continued behavior like that throughout the day. She really was convinced she was the cat's meow.

Too make it worse, all of my Cadbury and ABN-AMRO colleagues had great experiences with their students. They weren't taken aback, offended or anything but impressed by the AIESEC students. That caused me to really question if the problem I had was my own, instead of the student. Was I really that closed to feedback? Was I really than unable to deal with a strong person?

Obviously, it's taken me weeks to answer that question.

So here's my answer. Rude is rude. She was rude. I am not perfect and I am not always open to feedback, but I do know you can give and receive it in a manner that doesn't close down the other person. Clearly, this woman needs to learn this skill.

AIESEC wasn't filled with people like her, but instead the other 29 students were hungry, smart, aggressive and ready to change the world. They want to make a difference and that is a very good thing. For others who get an opportunity to meet or work with people from AIESEC, remember, they are smart, agressive and trying to make this world better. I am glad I had this experience, and I am glad I can now close it.

If you haven't seen my pictures, here's a link....

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