Leadership on the Lake: Report from Lake George

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Leadership on the Lake
Leadership Forum at Silver Bay—100 Years
For 100 years, business, organizational, community, educational, and citizen leaders have met on the shores of Lake George to address the most pressing human and leadership issues of their times. These leaders have come to the Leadership Forum to understand, shape, and deepen the skills required to lead in an increasingly complex and changing world. Economic, social, and political challenges around the globe continue to underscore one essential truth: Leadership Matters.

Back in 2003 a client of Face The Music invited us to an event called “Human Issues in Management”, held at Silver Bay on Lake George in New York State. We did our Blues Interactive songwriting program with the 100 or so people there, and it was one of the warmest, most enthusiastic groups we’ve ever worked with (and that’s saying something!). I also attended the conference and was blown away by the depth and quality of the content and people as we delved into issues in a profound way that was soulful as well as well-informed and cutting edge. I made several connections there that became long-term friends. That was the 85th annual.

While contemplating my current urge for personal transformation this Spring, I ran across an email from the Silver Bay group, and thought, “That might be a good place to show up again!” And it was. Before I get into the happenings at this year’s. I like to set the context of the 100th anniversary.

Back in 1914 the leadership of the YMCA, including William E. Dodge, Jr., J. Pierpont Morgan, John Wanamaker and Cornelius Vanderbilt, influenced the YMCA to serve as a catalyst for defining and supporting positive practices in the emerging industrial workplace. In 1918, the first conference was held on the shores of Lake George to discuss the most pressing human issues in business. Early conference agendas addressed then controversial issues such as class struggle, collective bargaining, guaranteed minimum wage, experimentation in profit sharing, equal pay for women, and the abolition of child labor. That event was called “The Silver Bay Industrial Conference”. The gathering has had a few name changes (including the “Human Issues in Management”) mentioned above, and has been convened every year since.

A quote from that first conference:
“The greatest problems that ever faced industry and the nation are ahead of us. There never was a time when leaders in industry were so anxious to discus vital issues, compare experiences, and get light.” -1918

Still applicable today… The common thread over the years is based on the fundamental belief that leadership matters, and leaders having a forum to consciously explore the critical issues together (in a beautiful physical environment) and has led to a continuous century-old network of allies committed to recognizing, developing, and supporting leaders who drive positive change.

The Forum is co-created by the organizers, presenters (this year called “Provocateurs”), and the attendees all being an essential part of the content, tone, and outcomes. And while the gathering was less diverse in the early days (see photo), this year’s gathering may have been one of the most diverse business events I’ve ever been to—the age range of attendees was from 14 to 96, and it was a great mix of women and men, people from many different cultures, countries, and heritages, and a diversity of perspectives.

The Provocateurs provided presentations to introduce ideas, issues, and perspectives to consider, and for me created an interconnected netting within which to reflect on the interrelationships between the ideas, the questions they raised, how various parts of our culture, society, and economy interact, the challenges that are created, and how those challenges might be addressed by a conscious mankind—or even by us (heheh).

The Provocateurs themselves were diverse and presented on many topics—alternative education and schools, organizational growth & disruption, artificial intelligence and its impact, the rise of networks and diminishing role of power and hierarchy, gender race and ethnic equity, the acceleration of change and innovation, social transformation, and civil discourse. I was going to go further into these presentations and their implications here, but realized that might be a small book.

Between the provocateurs’ presentations everyone worked in groups as the “human library”, riffing and expanding on the ideas and developing presentations on various topics of their choosing, creating a growing body of work over the 3+ days. This was all interspersed with unstructured time to connect, talk one-on-one, or go for a kayak excursion on Lake George.

Here’s a link to my group’s video presentation (featuring our provocateurs) on work expectations for the generation coming out of high school in the next few years: https://youtu.be/FB3AnfEl39g

One tradition that resonates with me is the after breakfast pre-start time sing-a-long. Every morning we go to the general session room and they’d hand out the lyric books. Bruce is up front with a guitar, and we’d unabashedly sing along—Woody Guthrie, Mary, Paul, & Peter, old camp songs. It got the whole group resonating together, and woken up and present in a unique way.

The Forum has a deep meaning for its community. Joel Wright, who was a young man I connected with back in 2003, expresses it for him: “It’s always been soul central, an amazing place and community that comes together to address significant leadership challenges in our world. At its best we’re a community, an intentional network that comes together to learn, share and ideate solutions that create meaningful change. This year it was type of culmination of many people, organizations, schools and community members...all interested in growing.”

My current understanding of the underlying purpose for my work is to serve awareness, transformation, and change to evolve a societal, cultural, and economic framework for creating a verdant stage for the individual and collective evolution of the human spirit (whadda sentence!). The good souls at Silver Bay are fellow warriors in that quest, and the connections, dialogue, music, care, insight, and commitment there nourish my mojo on that path.
—Paul Kwiecinski, Managing Partner, Face The Music
An Outsider’s Look into Leadership Programs

How do these people get here? How long they have they been on this track? These are the kind of questions that always pop up for me when I’m presenting/coaching at a corporate leadership event.

I’m part of a company (Face The Music) that helps the facilitators of leadership programs capture the minds and imaginations of the participants in a way that is outside their usual comfort zones. Our role is to help support the objectives of their whole program (more on that later). I do this not even knowing what the facilitators have been working on. Sounds irresponsible? not really…

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts with interviews from famous film stars. There’s an overriding theme—many of them don’t read the whole script—they read only lines from the scenes they’re in; so narcissistic! It’s really an energy saver. Kind of like a musician who doesn’t need to learn all the other musicians’ parts to a concerto, just the part that she or he is playing. This simplifies the job and gives micro-focus to just their part being played.

When our company comes into these events for let’s say, a 3-hour program, I am like the actor or musician, focused on delivering our product at a peak level, and I don’t really know the program that we are a main part of. That being said it’s unbelievably interesting landing in one these programs for a few hours.

Location: We’re almost always at some kind of a high-end venue: it could be a 5-star hotel in Las Vegas, a theater like The Beacon in NY, or the company’s exclusive learning center that only a select few ever step into.

Program features: I maybe come in for the last hour before I’m up at bat and observe; it feels more like a Tony Robbins self empowerment seminar than a business meeting: The walls are filled with positive affirmations, there are colorful flip chart pages pasted to the walls, the group is talking about the culture they want to foster: one of fairness and justice, goal attainment, a sense of well-being and so on.

The Challenge: A particular group I was coaching at one event was just getting finished with a color engine and getting acquainted with each other’s personality type based on the color model. My job was to corral a group of 10 people to write a song together based on a theme from their program. They had 45 minutes and then they sing/perform the newly-penned song with a professional band, live in front of an audience of their peers. ( https://www.facethemusicblues.com/team-building-program-options/) It should be noted that this group was thrust into a situation where they were writing a song (which none of them had ever done) and had hardly any, or no musical talent among them.

The Results: What I’ve seen in these situations over and over again is simple:
Highly intelligent people figuring out a way to work together using whatever assets they have to accomplish the task. Doing this, they of course write and perform the song (stretching and giving their best)—and they might even win the house battle of the bands award. Granted it’s a controlled exercise, but you can see why these companies are picking these people to be the next leaders.
—Ken McGloin, Musical Director, Face The Music
Copyright © 2018, Face The Music All rights reserved.
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