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Achieving the seemingly impossible

Posted
08/09/2016
Author
Chris Taylor

To conclude our recent five-day programme in the Republic of Georgia we did an exercise where a group sits down without using chairs. You may have been part of this yourself. Forming a tight circle, each person sits on the knees of the person behind. Through collective effort, the seemingly impossible is achieved. It’s a lot of fun – often causing surprise and hilarity in equal measures.

It seemed a fitting way to end. The theme of our event was Management Education for a Better World – an in-depth exploration of how we can use collaborative approaches to learning to develop collaborative approaches to solving the world’s challenges.

The event was hosted by Oikos International, the global student movement for sustainability. It was co-facilitated by two students from Austria, Anna Beyer and Julia Weber, whom I have been mentoring for the last two years. We have co-facilitated sessions in New York, Switzerland and at the Paris Climate Talks, all supported by our partners at GRLI who have been keen to support the next generation of responsible leaders. This was by far our longest and most demanding session.

Georgia is an incredibly interesting country. It nestles between continental Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. Not surprisingly its history is rich, its culture is diverse and its traditions are strong. Georgia has been a more or less intact nation since around the sixth century and was introduced to Christianity in the fourth century.

There is a somewhat traditional approach to leadership evident on the surface of life in Georgia. Male hero figures abound and hierarchical approaches are common – perhaps because of past Soviet domination, perhaps as a way to re-establish a republic after the war for independence from the Soviet Union.

But what became quickly apparent was that the students taking part had a natural, common-sense understanding of a wide range of leadership styles. We explored a range of approaches from charismatic leadership to servant leadership and team-based approaches – democratic and participative leadership. I was struck by the intuitive way in which people from a range of regional centres, including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iraq, collaborated instantly and productively.

These are nations that at various times have been enemies, and which are still divided by language, religion and huge gaps in living standards. None of this was a barrier. All of it was learning material for young inquiring minds. Age, experience and diversity were all recognised and subsumed into a collaborative approach to group leadership which was a joy to facilitate.

There are times when I can feel overwhelmed and depressed at the state of the world. Then I have experiences like this, which help me to understand that a new approach to the future is emerging.

Traditional, hierarchical models will not dissolve overnight. However, in the meantime, many of us are finding ways to live, work and play that bring out more in each other and provide space for mutual growth and collaboration. This is where the magic happens – the moments when the sum is more than the parts, when the seemingly impossible is achieved.

See more photos from the event at the Oikos Summer School Facebook page.

Chris Taylor

Associate

Leading on social and environmental change through group processes and personal transformation

Chris Taylor