Don't Panic

The time arrived for me to lead a workshop on “Building a High Performance Organization,” the second element of my agreed upon participation in the American Society for Training & Development – Middle East North Africa Conference. I was well prepared, quite anxious to start and confident my audience would be engaged. However, a few minor preparations were required before I could begin. The AV team had to attach the lapel microphone. I had to switch from the previous presenter’s computer to my own and test the visuals. No problem. I had done this before. As I was retrieving the file, my nightmare came true—my file would not load. There were 10 minutes left before the start of my presentation. I tried several times with no success. I had a backup copy on a USB key so I thought I would reinstall the file and all would be set right; but the file would still not load. The clock was ticking. A hundred eyes were fixed on me. What could I do?

I had travelled from Toronto to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as a guest speaker and facilitator for the second annual ASTD-MENA conference. Though I had to endure 17 hours of travel time and a nine-hour time difference, I was very excited to return to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). I had been to the Kingdom many times before to work with a number of large organizations as a strategic advisor on various organizational effectiveness issues. After checking through customs and security, I was delighted as the car travelled down the North Corniche road, parallel to the Red Sea shore. 

When one mentions Saudi Arabia, visions of a piercing hot sun, high humidity, dry desert sands and a foreign culture may come to mind. But this was not the case. A beautiful seaside, palm trees, a gentle, cool breeze and a temperature in the low 30s (°C) embraced me. The landscape and skyline of this city of four million people was no different from any North American or European city. When I arrived, my old friends were there to greet me. Six years had passed since my last visit, but it was as if the clock had stopped and we picked up right where we had left off. Their hospitality, graciousness and respect for this Canadian were refreshing. Despite the many differences between us and our countries and cultures, our common friendship and respect for each other brought great happiness.

My first ASTD-MENA session met its objective. I was asked to facilitate a panel discussion on the topic of “Training and Employability in Saudi Arabia.” The panel included three senior Human Resources and Organizational Development experts from major organizations representing MENA: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE. Included on the panel was His Excellency, Ibrahim Maoguil, the Director General for the KSA Human Resource Development Fund, one of the largest government-financed funds in the Kingdom. Of course, the question was raised, “What’s this guy from Canada doing leading such a critical discussion about issues in MENA and particularly the KSA?”

Upon accepting the assignment, I asked myself the same question and determined exhaustive research was required to ensure that my knowledge and understanding of the issues were complete. I was prepared, and I discovered that KSA’s issues in this area were very similar to ours in Canada. Nevertheless, what I was not prepared for was a drastic change in the agenda and format, presented to me just five minutes before we went on stage. My planned approach had to change. This was beyond my control and influence since I was only the moderator.

I told myself, “Don’t panic. Stop. Think. Accept. Adjust. Plan. Execute.” In spite of the last-minute changes, we were able to deliver a panel discussion focusing on the main issues of training and employability and leave the audience with three simple words of wisdom: change, collaborate and commit.

The feedback was positive and we deemed the session a success.

That was the morning session; we still had to conduct the afternoon session. I was confident after the success of the panel discussion. However, in spite again of all my preparation, I was still left without my PowerPoint presentation. I did have a paper backup (as would any good moderator) and was prepared to hand out 20 pages of black and white slides to each person. But the effect would be lost. The previous presenter, whom I had never met, spoke on the topic of Leadership. His name was Corey. He had finished and was collecting his equipment and materials. He noticed some confusion around my area and asked what was wrong. I told him. His solution was simple. “Here,” he said, “use my computer.” I did, my file loaded successfully and I was able to proceed with the workshop. Thank you, Corey!

So what happened? I normally use a Windows-based laptop with purchased software. On this occasion, I chose to use a Mac since I was told it would offer better visuals for presentation. I did have a Microsoft Office for Mac software package loaded, which provided Microsoft PowerPoint. However, my software had been purchased under an annual subscription, and would you believe it—the subscription expired 10 minutes before my workshop was to begin. True story!

Interestingly enough, Corey’s topic was on Leadership and mine was on Organizational Effectiveness. Corey preached leadership and then demonstrated it in a practical way. This type of leadership is called “servant leadership,” which simply asks, “What can I do to help?” Corey could have left me to fend for myself and rejoice in my folly but instead he chose to help a stranger. With respect to organizational effectiveness, my message of “people make the difference” was proven true. It is not the equipment, processes or systems that matter. What makes the difference in any organization is how we interact with each other. The leader’s responsibility is to ensure a purpose-driven culture that supports an organization’s strategy and design.

If we as leaders succeed in developing the right culture, regardless of what issues we face, there will never be a need to panic. Together, we can face anything and everything successfully.