I just finished a week in England with 42 student leaders and educators at our “Jump Your Shadow” Conference, held at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. As always, it was an amazing time of seeing the world, stretching the way people think about leadership and interacting with the world that exists outside one’s comfort zone.
In the course of our time together, we discussed the power of living a bigger life, recognizing the impact of choice, taking personal responsibility, managing fear, training one’s brain to identify opportunities, building a “jump” team, increasing creativity and managing failure – because trust me, if you jump, you will, from time to time, fall.
While our program, centered around our leadership training sessions and activities at Oxford, the event also included day trips to London, Stonehenge and Stratford. It’s hard to articulate exactly how powerful the combination of Global Next’s integration approach to training student leaders is, but there’s something unique about connecting truth to location and location to current events and current events to action and action to one’s leadership legacy.
One of the assignments that the students were required to complete during the program was a series of interviews with people on the street in Oxford. The questions were divided between two themes: Theme one was “Shadows and Legacies.” It sought to identify the bravest thing anyone had ever done, who their heroes were and what they wanted their ultimate legacy to be. The second theme was “Global Issues” and centered on recent events in Syria and global leadership.
The findings included a wide rage of opinions and thoughts. In general, people were not as comfortable speaking about their own lives, influences and how they would want to be remembered. In fact, some indicated that it was far too much pressure and responsibility to have to live a life with an eye toward’s one’s legacy. I am glad that people like the Queen of England (who has given 60 years of her life to selfless service) and people like David Livingstone (who is buried in Westminster Abbey) thought differently. Because of them and people like them, the world is different – and lives were impacted and changed.
People found it much easier to discuss geopolitical events. They were happy to talk about the UK decision to opt out of Syrian involvement. They were thoughtful, informed and current in their knowledge of the situation. Most of those interviewed felt strongly that if any action should ever be taken against rogue nations – those who used weapons of mass destruction – that it must be the refection of the global community. In other words, the United Nations. There was nearly no indication that individual nations should act or take individual leadership – such as the direction Barack Obama seemed to be heading.
For me, one of the most interesting insights gleaned from the interview project was the contrast between how the student leaders viewed the two themes of the interview questions versus how the respondents viewed the two themes. Here’s what we found: Our young leadership students, who have been encouraged and primed to live a life of purpose and to consider their ultimate legacy, were much more comfortable with the questions regarding “purpose,” and less comfortable with the questions and material regarding geopolitics. (For the simple reason that they didn’t know as much about it and hadn’t considered the global importance of the issue.) Those who were interviewed on the streets of Oxford were less comfortable with the “purpose-oriented” questions – and anything that correlated one’s personal choices to the size and impact of one’s life. But they were comfortable and informed regarding global issues.
This is a profoundly important finding for young US leaders to recognize. You can’t effectively lead in an interdependent world with only an understanding of your life’s purpose without understanding how that purpose fits in with the needs and issues of the world. And that’s why I bother to take students out of their comfort zones – to see the world and to understand the world in context. The goal is global wisdom – and that is rarely achieved while sitting on one’s couch.
*Special thanks to those who brought their students to this conference: Jim and Janet Stedcke (Fort Myers, FL), Paul Hicok and Mariana Figueroa (San Diego, CA) and Brian Keith (Dallas, TX). And special thanks to Mohamad Ragaie, Global Next’s operations director in Cairo for his help throughout the conference.