Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Qatar - 2nd visit

As I prepare to move to Qatar, I'm doing lots of things like filing visa papers, doing medical exams and treatments, trying to figure out what I'll take and what I'll leave behind. All of these are gradual steps on the path to my November 4 departure to the Arabian Gulf. They don't feel overwhelming yet but I know that the clock is ticking.

I was in Qatar for most of last week. I went over to get more deeply acquainted with colleagues and to get some things started in preparation for November. If I didn't have things to tie up in Ohio, I probably would have sent for my personal things and not returned. There are many things that I want to still savor but my thoughts keep drifting to the opportunities ahead. Don't get me wrong, I don't seek to walk away from anything; it's just that there is so much to look forward to discovering. Most of that discovery is in understanding new perspectives and people and in seeing ideas I've believed so deeply come to fruition. I'll share a couple of examples.

A surprise rediscovery in myself is realizing that my childhood and undergraduate focus has come back to front and center in my life - music. As I continued to get more acquainted with colleagues, particularly faculty who serve in administrative roles in the branch campuses of Education City, I have found artistic connections with literally every one of them. In some cases it has been sharing joy in a favorite composer, in other cases it has been seeing music as a pathway to learning. The Dean at Georgetown saw the arts as a gateway to understanding world politics. The Dean of VCU saw music as a stimulus to break-through creativity in design. Not only am I glad that I've maintained my musical commitments over my lifetime, I now realize that music (or any art) makes us educated, interesting, and culturally competent to converse with others. Regardless of what I studied in my advance degrees, it is my undergraduate degree in music that created more connections than anything.

Another moment of awakening occurred when I asked for names of staff who might be interested and available to work on planning a retreat for our staff. I'm used to having to work to identify a diverse group of people who reflect the breadth of cultural perspectives in an organization. At the Qatar Foundation, I simply asked for 3-4 people and received suggestions for professionals from Brazil, Qatar, Jordan, and the U.S.A. They are all of different backgrounds, perspectives, and talents and we're all right there to work with and learn from each other. The struggles we have in diversity in the U.S.A. are usually about getting people to the table; the opportunity of diversity at the Qatar Foundation will be meshing our various voices for positive change.

The last example was one that really stunned me. I was talking to a Qatari woman who wanted to work with the Faculty and Student Services area. She wanted to have the opportunity to pursue advanced graduate education and then to work for the Foundation. I started off by asking her what she had in mind. I'm convinced that she initially thought that she had to give me the answer I wanted. However, something called me to ask her what she really cared about. She immediately lit up with excitement and started talking about writing books for children that would teach them the importance of leadership, and teaching them that they are capable of leadership. Hearing her real passion allowed us to connect and to pursue something that she really could do for Qatar Foundation that would make a real difference. I can hardly wait to return to see her proposal which is likely to include working with college students who will work with youth to help them understand the importance of high quality education and the need to prepare themselves for leadership.

These examples are about what we bring to this moment (perhaps our latent talents), how we tap the potential of all those around us, and how we dig down deep to find something we really care about. Combining these three things are simple, concrete examples of the "Deeper Leadership" model I espouse in my book. Discovering leadership potential isn't magical; it's just a matter of looking within and nurturing the insights that are already in most of us. I have a feeling that my work in Qatar is going to be filled with such examples.

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