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This log book entry is a true story about unlikely events that happened more than half of a decade ago that directly impacted the trajectory of Sapfo Groove Initiative as you see it today and that impact reflects the most in its newest product - Lead 2 Peer App. App is a unique space where insights, knowledge and mastery of leadership come through experience first, and theory later. Let’s go back in time to find out why...

If you plant for a season, plant budgets. If you plant for a decade, plant reorganization, If you plant for a century, plant people. Ralph Siu

Everybody was shocked by the news about reorganization (and that was not so easy to achieve, zero leakage about reorg is highly unusual, btw). One of the biggest anyone could remember. Atmosphere of chaos for months. And a year of complete disorganization.

As things in my private life became pretty hectic pretty fast (as it usually happens, sounds familiar?), I made a judgement call and relocated to another city. As an alien in New York (no, this was actually a very small town in the same country, but it felt really really alien since culture is so different). At that time I was working in two different capacities, 1st without formal leadership title (as a performance and personal improvement specialist) and 2nd with formal authority (as a team leader in customer care) in a span of a year when I enrolled in MA studies Cultures in Dialogue (yes, it's obvious why).

I was focused primarily in studying how Emotional Intelligence influences performance among different "categories" (culture, age, sense of personal accomplishment, self confidence), from individual and team perspective.

Emotional aspect of human identity in the business environment was still taboo at the time. My quest for different approach to leadership than what I was taught on trainings came from resistance towards boredom, mediocrity, unisex approach; rebellion against educational system rigidity, working environment inflexibility, inability to maintain multicultural collaboration with mutual respect, acknowledgement and enablement for longer run; and most of all - overwhelming presence of a pink elephant in the room - lack of meaning, sense of purpose and absence of hope that could be seen among young people, just out of high school or collage, that job in customer care can be anything else but a paycheck.

Nobody dreams about being a customer care representative when they grow up, right?

A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities. J.R.R. Tolkien

To me, that was an unacceptable situation. Standard motivational talk, empowerment activities, positive hype, be ambitious pressure, corporate we-instead-of-I language could move the needle just as much.

Based on my education and interests (read - obsessions), I was trying to get approval from my superiors to try something else. As a fairly new female leader, I had all the enthusiasm, energy and passion towards exploring how we could leverage emotional aspects and that overwhelming gap in sense of meaning and belonging. I wanted to create the bridge between dreams of an employee and reality. But I had no right pitch with a clear value proposal for my innovation. Word emotion was a huge and instant deal breaker.

That kept me frustrated for a while, but also more determined. And one day, we got a case study about pioneering initiatives in customer care from around the world. The new golden standard. And there it was, among others, an example of best practice from Zappos with a word that was music for my ears - delight. Read that again - delight. Delight as goal, as a target, as a strategy. To delight a customer, to delight an employee, to delight!

An actual proof of concept, right in front of me. A couple of daunting pitch presentations later - my initiative got resources for pilots. Finally an initiative focused on a different approach to motivation, enablement and empowerment got that green light. In the middle of all that chaos due to restructuring. Perfect timing.

Should I even mention that team showed increased productivity and sales results. That yearly survey about engagement, enablement and empowerment put us among top teams and that I received top talent recognition in a yearly review.

*Photo of actual paper material with original notes.

But those are not numbers I was proud of, I was proud of the fact that 70-75% of employees who came in contact with my approach (based on acknowledging and leveraging all the emotions, instead of ignoring, suppressing them or forcing into optimism) as a way to developing human potential - experienced growth and were promoted to leadership and expert roles within 6 months to a year. In comparison, 3 years in the same role was an average for our departments. That allowed free flow of new, fresh energy, proactivity, and increased satisfaction of employees that immediately resulted with increased customer satisfaction. Pure delight.

The thing back then was that I was not able to fully grasp what was the main enabler for such results. I was trying to create a system so it could be replicated by other leaders easily, but I was failing in that and my initiative never impacted the entire organization the way I envisioned and hoped. Results of my two years of research ended up as a case study described in my MA thesis and never actually became part of an international company's standard.

It was years later that I discovered the missing link. I was too focused on the emotional part and I missed to understand that it was about the feelings, energy, insights and knowledge that were coming from the actual experience.

Emotional aspect was a critical piece of the puzzle, but it was because of the experience that caused it.

The fact was that my entire initiative was focused on deliberately and strategically creating situations that will evoke certain emotions. So, when I would play some music at the beginning of a workshop, it was not so much about the music itself or the emotions that would come because of the song lyrics or instruments, as I initially assumed.

*Photo of actual paper material with original notes.

The thing was that a group of customer care representatives got to discuss the importance of keeping assumptions lightly and not judging while they listened to Walking in My Shoes from Depeche Mode, while they had coffee, at their corporate workshop, and they were paid for doing that.

For a 20 something group that was a kind of experience that made them feel like things made some sense at that moment. And that's the experience they will have forever as a memory of their first "real" job. And time has shown that we should never ever underestimate the power of that. Because whatever the dream someone caries within, acting upon it will always be attached to the level of personal growth and development. Making reality of a young person less bleak, boring and meaningless is planting the seed for better world.

The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Nelson Mandela

The second important thing I realized was that it was not about 3 big actions leaders must take in order to unlock loyalty, extraordinary results and proactive approach in their team. It's about the fact that everything adds up, all the little things matter more than some 3 big actions that must be checked from the annual development plan.

All those little experiences, bothering to find examples of good practices to which employees can actually relate to (because another pink elephant in the room is that 99% of recommended practices are triggering for employees), walking the talk, staying in integrity, finding a common ground with rebels in team, truly listening, including misfits, allowing space for practice, trial and error, not treating them as idiots (yes, another pink elephant) and showing basic human respect (yes, this is still a thing).

Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. Plato

There were many more interesting findings from that experiment, but as I said, one word from one article - delight - directly influenced much of what the Sapfo Groove Initiative is committed to today. Delight comes through an experience. We call it an authentic groove, a groove that each of us brings into the meeting room when we show up, a rhythm in which we move, influence each other, and impact society. And our newest product - Lead 2 Peer App is a space where it is possible to experience leadership, learn by practice and discover that authentic groove and delight the team, the company, the customer, the world. We know that in order to become a brilliant, influential, compassionate, inclusive leader, one must know the feeling of it, the energy of it, to have that eureka insight about it. And that comes only from having the opportunity to actually be a leader.

Since everything we do is inspired by those who took the road less traveled, by true pioneers, it is not a surprise that our methodology today is based on leveraging multipotentiality, hidden talent that comes from rebellion and the simple fact that a team is always a mirror reflection of a leader (and vice versa). We deliberately make space for misfits of the world to be heard and enabled as leaders so that we can have a truly inclusive world.

I feel, sometimes, as the renaissance man must have felt in finding new riches at every point and in the certainty that unexplored areas of knowledge and experience await at every turn. Polykarp Kusch

And as you can see, this is not a true story about a big bad wolf, a rigid corporate system that didn't allow testing of something different before they got to read the case study about something similar.

This is a true story about how rejection and failure create opportunities to be more creative, more wise, more audacious.

And for executives, this true story is a warning to ditch the formalism sooner rather than later. World is accelerating with each day and there is not much room for waiting for someone else to prove the concept.

The entire (b)log book entry was inspired by an initiative that honors the work of deceased Tony Hsieh, the visionary business leader and Zappos CEO (thanks to Keitth Ferrazzi that brought it to my attention).

You never know who will be impacted by spreading valuable ideas, innovative approaches and pioneering practices and what good can come out of it. And as it is depicted in this entry, timing is always perfect for someone somewhere, to bring clarity and innovation out of chaos.

*Photo of actual paper material with original notes.


Olja Aleksic

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