Seminar Leader Aviv Shahar introduces this activity by articulating a common dilemma of leadership and suggesting a way in which those who lead learners can focus on what creates the most value. Among the truths he has discovered is: "A focus on learning, meaning, and value creates more of it in our lives". He documents his personal learning journey in the following notes.
Aviv says: " Leaders are faced with the challenge of cultivating opportunities and growth in the people they lead, while they are preoccupied both with immediate performance and profit pressures. Performance and profit are possible because of people and their commitment and enthusiasm . In the beginning, in the middle, and in the end, leadership is about people. Performance and profit are outcomes ".
"The idea of the ˜From You I have Learned process was stimulated in me at the age of 17 (many years ago) when I read "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. Toward the end of his life Marcus Aurelius, a ruler of the Roman Empire and a philosopher, wrote D ebts and L essons , which consists of reflections about the people he had met and the learning he experienced with them.
"The idea captured my imagination . Here was a way, I thought, to live an enlightened life. I decided that instead of waiting for the end of my life to summarize the learning and value of my interactions with people, I could begin now. By setting aside a special time, regularly, to review and harvest learning and value, I could build a richer life of learning.
"Over the years as this process has grown, it has taught me to focus on the long- lasting value and learning that could be extracted from any situation. It produced a ˜bird's eye view that allowed me to look upon life and what I was experiencing from a higher vantage point. When we identify the lessons and value in specific situations, we have the power to reframe what we experience. The process became like a treasure hunt to find the extraordinary inside the seemingly ordinary. If an occasion seemed unimportant or was challenging or adversarial there was a way to re-look, re-view, and to ˜respect it and thereby find in it learning, opportunity, and meaning.
"Practicing the ˜from you I have learned mindset gave birth to an inquiry process that sought to see things for what they are unto themselves . So much of our time is spent in the preoccupation with how everything impacts us. Is this person for or against me? Is this situation advancing or hindering me? Asking such questions is part of our natural survival instinct, yet the way in which we answer them often becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy . This is not an advertisement for a na ve view of the world or of the market place. It is simply a realization that our mindset determines whether a situation inhibits or promotes growth and opportunity. Initially most situations and people are not on your side or the other side ”they are simply what they are unto themselves.
"The way we live, think, and act is how we co-create our reality, the organizations and communities in which we live, and the world at large. In seeking to see things for what they are and recognizing in others their essence, core qualities, or higher selves, we ratify that part of them into our consciousness and promote more of it into our world".
"A focus on learning, meaning, and value creates more of it in our lives . By reframing adversarial or challenging situations we can unleash remedial, inspirational, and visionary forces so vitally needed for leaders and organizations".
Identifying personal qualities
Harvesting learning value
Thinking in an appreciative thought pattern
Here is actual feedback from participants describing some of the benefits that this exercise introduces when used in leadership development retreats, vision quests, and personal transformation and growth scenarios.
"In this exercise I have learned to include more in my consideration rather than less".
"It has helped me to shift from a mindset of ˜either/or to an inclusive, expanded, and encompassing thinking".
"Instead of trying to put a subject away I have a reason to look at things deeper".
"It makes my life richer".
"When I look back at challenging experiences with negative or adversarial people, I am able to discover that I carried value out of this situation".
"It shows me that I can gain and learn in every situation".
"It is like re-wiring the key turning moments of my life".
To practice the art of reflection as the basis of reframing
To learn to harvest value from experience
To practice focusing on personal qualities as a durable learning value
To discover the enhanced quality of identifying and focusing on learning and value already gathered in one's personal and professional path
Handout A, Meditation
Handout B, examples from Aviv Shahar's journal writings and learnings
Journal paper and pen
Start with tables and chairs in a circle.
Continue with any of the following options for participants:
Sit in a personal work corner or other preferred workspace
Arrange a living room style, with soft and comfortable chairs
Sit in the outdoors, as a circle in the woods
90 minutes to 3 hours
Preferably this exercise comes toward the end of a day, perhaps the second or third day of a retreat, when appropriate progress allows the shift into a reflective mode so that participants can consolidate the long-lasting value of their experiences.
This activity can be effectively used in a coaching or mentoring learning environment as well as in a seminar setting. Start by making sure you are sitting in a comfortable place. Perhaps it is a place you sit when you journal or meditate. Make it pleasant, tidy, and warm, and have whatever you need to allow yourself an uninterrupted time. When done in a group , make the learning space as accommodating and as comfortable as possible.
Introduction and Explanation
Begin either by reading aloud or paraphrasing the following ideas that establish the context for the seminar: T his process is designed to assist you in revitalizing a sense of value and gratitude for your life and your relationships . I t encourages a culture of learning, growth, and opportunity in your world . A s a leader, people look to you for more than empowerment . I f in the past people looked at a leader as a role model, they now look up to you as a mentor, as a coach, and at times even as a healer . T hey want to know what values and qualities you nurture and cultivate . T his process is designed to foster awareness and focus on long-lasting learning and value in your own life . I t thereby extends to your interactions with others . I t offers a way of thinking that reframes any experience as a learning opportunity . B y applying yourself to this scenario, you will fashion a mindset that promotes opportunity, growth, trust, value, creativity, high performance, integrity, innovation, humor, and other qualities you choose to magnify .
Suggest to your trainees that every person you have interacted with in your life had something to teach you, whether it was a parent, a child, a partner, an adversary, a friend, a client, a supplier, a boss, or an employee. Address trainees by saying: "I n this contemplation, you are looking to distill the value or essence behind the many moments of interactions with a person . Y ou have the power to reframe and place your experience of them in the context of your own journey of growth and development . T hrough this process you then harvest what you choose as significant from the mature perspective of today ".
Guided Imagery Meditation
This guided imagery is offered as a transition and conditioning to help create an inner theater and ecology that would be more conducive for the process. Distribute Handout A to trainees. Give them a chance to skim it. Then read it aloud to them as they follow along silently.
Visualize yourself sitting in a comfortable armchair inside a beautiful chamber. This chamber sits on some high place, perhaps it is a mountain or a tall building; perhaps you can even imagine a special chamber that is floating in the sky. Feel free to create your own imagery of you sitting in some high place in a safe and beautiful chamber from which you can look down at your life. It is warm and comfortable. There is a soft glow about the place. You have everything you need. You feel relaxed and well. Any worries or concerns you've had are gone. You are happy that you have this time to reflect upon your life. This place where you sit allows you to reflect upon your life from a distance. It enables you to extract the value and learning of your experience. It's a place you come to in order to summarize the lessons you have learned in your life. From this place you will be able to share and dispense the learnings of your life. Imagine that you might be called or assigned to go from this place to another location, another organization, perhaps another world or planet. In this new place, the people are in need of the wisdom you gathered. Your assignment may be to teach the people of that place the lessons you have learned and to tell them about the people you met in your life and the value you gathered. Visualize yourself in this nice and warm armchair, you are comfortable, at ease, and you are able to cast back through your life up to now with forgiving , confident, loving, and grateful eyes.
Identifying the Teachers in Your Life
N ow write down a list of 12 people with whom you had significant interaction, from your toddler time until this moment . (T hey can be alive or people who have passed away ). S imply let yourself note the people who come up in your mind . Have available a stack of the three-page Handout B for participants to choose to review or not. Tell them to use these as examples, or to generate ideas for their own lists.
Reflection, Harvesting, and Journaling
Look at the names on your list and ask the following questions:
What did I see? What did I witness ?
What qualities did I notice?
How did these qualities manifest? How were they displayed?
What did I experience in myself ?
What learning is there for me?
What lessons or meaning have I experienced with this person?
What is the long-lasting value this person brought to my life?
T ake a deep breath and begin . Y ou are sitting in your armchair of insight and perception . T ry now to gather the understanding of these qualities, such as strength, courage, resolve, innovation, persistence, service, passion, and compassion . I t may take a while to begin to see these things . B e encouraged to go deeper and trust your instinct and natural intuition to lead you in this .
Write the following letter template on a flipchart or whiteboard. Then ask trainees to think of the first person they'd like to start with, and begin writing:
Dear ( the name ) , from you I have learned about ( courage/taking a stand in life/looking at what matters most/working diligently/to smile/to have fun and love and hug ) (think of the qualities and strength or the specific lessons you learned from that person).
W rite these down as they turn up in you . T hen, move to the next person and write to them . I f you come to a person for whom you have some difficulty, picture yourself again in the armchair in this beautiful chamber situated in a high place . I t is safe here and difficult feelings melt away . Y ou are able to look at all the people you met within your life without fear or anger . T hey are simply who they are and you smile, as you now see the lesson they brought to your life .
A fter you have done the first 12 people, you can move to more people you may want to write about .
Option: In a group, pause after 20 minutes to have a few people read one of their writings. This can help the flow for some who might be struggling.
Allow between half an hour to an hour for this phase depending on the situation and time available.
A Circle of Precious Learning
Introduce the idea of creating a learning space where participants can share some of their insights and revelations. In this, each participant can read or speak of a valued learning from his or her life. Introduce the practice of 20 seconds of quiet pauses after each person speaks in which to honor the learning and value offered. Participants can count internally up to ten to allow the necessary time.
Ending and Summation
After people share their learning, thank participants and encourage them to continue living a life of learning and generating meaning in their relationships.
Here are some examples of Aviv Shahar's writings and learnings to get you started:
D ear Z vi , (my father) from you I learned that in every situation it is possible to find a way to move forward and that a closed door doesn't mean you cannot find other doors that will open if you are prepared to work to find the key. You never took no for an answer and I have learned about tenacity and determination.
D ear E ster , (my aunt) when I used to visit with you at age seven, eight and nine, I remember how you always had a special place for me. Your three sons were always there but you always had a special place for me and loved me for who I was with no expectancy or comparison. I have learned from you about unconditional love.
D ear H eart S pecialist , who told me when I was seven and a half that I should not exert myself too hard in sports, because of my heart. Thank you, for I have learned from you about a greater power inside me. I have learned and am still learning about passionate defiance and about the healing power within, and it has driven me to run and excel and find greater inner strength and discipline.
D ear V itzo , there were hundreds and hundreds of avocado trees in the orchard, and you knew them all. You knew the history of each one and how many tons of fruit they each produced last year and the year before. Each and every tree was for you a unique story, and it was in the story that you were able to keep the knowledge of that tree. I have learned from you about the farmer's dedication and the love of thoroughness and details and about a story whose roots grow deeper every year.
D ear Y ftach , when you chastised and perhaps sought to put me down, I found my own view and my own stance and the joy of believing and standing up for it. From you I have learned about the inner strength that was latent in me and the courage to speak my mind.
D ear R on , when we ran around the air force base, I was in the beginning of the flying course and you were towards the end. I discovered in your presence the power of respect and how central it is in coaching and assisting others. I felt that respect from you at a time when I was unsure about myself and it gave me back my belief and self confidence.
D ear R ay , you always gave people the feeling of the bigger person they can rise to become. You saw in them the competence and talent they did not see for themselves. Thank you for what I have learned from you about these arts. Your wisdom continues to show me ways of giving people a greater vision of themselves and encouraging them to find their part in the bigger game of life.
D ear C athy , from you I have learned about being unbiased as a core component of the art of having many friends ; where each feels safe, knowing there is no agenda or persuasion from you to them. Thank you, for I have learned about being intact in ones own values.
D ear A nthony , from you I learned about the power of introspection and reflection for a leader. When you explained and demonstrated your management approach and how you worked to advance your vision you showed me that following one's core convictions is a powerful way to encourage others to grow and rise to greater challenges.
15363 NE 201 Street
AVIV SHAHAR is President of Amber Network, a leadership coaching and consulting firm. He coaches a variety of international companies and not-for-profit organizations in the areas of leadership development, executive effectiveness, creative thinking, team dynamics, and stress management.
Aviv's experience in coaching others for high-level performance in critical operations extends back to 1980 when, as a fighter pilot, he was responsible for training other fighter pilot officers in the Israeli Air Force. He brings 22 years of experience in management and holistic education, philosophy, and spirituality, which he synthesizes into the Whole Person Development methodology in his seminars and workshops.
His writings have been accepted for publication by the P feiffer A nnuals and T he F uturist . Aviv developed the five- color template for personal growth and organizational development, and he is currently working on two books in which he brings together his learning experience and his personal mission.
Aviv has trained and coached managers from Cisco Systems, Northrop Grumman Corp., Coca Cola, SAP, Lam Research Corp., Kellogg's, Frito-Lay Inc., Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Potlatch Corp., Filenet Corp., HermanMiller, Rockefeller University Inc., SBC Advanced Solutions, Limoneira Co., GAP Inc., Anspach Companies, Equilon Lubricants, Dynacraft, Intrieve Inc., Knights of Columbus, Emeritus Corp., US Department of Interior, US Department of Defense, and The National Credit Union Administration.
Aviv Shahar has taught these AMA seminars:
Executive Effectiveness Course 1
Executive Effectiveness Course 2