The following are some personal reflections I wrote on my flight last week from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to the US, where I made a brief stopover before returning to Europe.
It is a fascinating experience for me to interact with these Latin American audiences. The last two days, I have been in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. As in many of the places I have gone recently, participants rarely have visible reactions to speakers, and it is difficult at times for me to tell if they are passive or pensive. Then, at the breaks or at the end of the day, they overflow with enthusiasm, often commenting that they found the presentation “inspirational”. It has been gratifying to see that they are in fact thinking deeply, and that what I am saying has a true impact.
The Latin American tour with Harvard Business Review was at the same time tiring and energizing. Tiring because I changed locations every 1-2 days and also because there were a lot of interviews, meetings and dinners. So, there was little “down time”, and little sleep. On the other hand, it was energizing because there were interesting audiences and organizers at every event, and I found the interchange with them to be a rewarding learning experience.
This conference series is also different and fun because it is my first major tour completely in Spanish. In the past, I have done some of the speaking in Spanish with slides in simple English, and some conferences completely in English with simultaneous translation. Preparing for a complete tour with all the slides and speeches in Spanish was enlightening. Changing languages caused me to discover new ways to say things, both in Spanish and in English. Audiences often aid me in this process with their questions, as people sometimes ask, “Could you think of it this way, or say it that way?” All in all, it has been an interesting linguistic as well as conceptual exercise.
I also realized again that contact with an audience in their own language has enormous benefits, both for the speaker and the participants. It is simply far more natural for me and for the audience to interact directly rather than through a team of translators.
One of the elements I enjoy about going on a tour is interacting with the people, particularly in new places. This trip brought me for the first time to the Central American republic of El Salvador, where I spoke to a large crowd at the Harvard seminar on “Leading with your personal stories of identity”. This small, Pacific nation of six million football-mad (by their own description) people is living a time of great prosperity today.
In fact, many attendees and organizers of my conferences commented that this is a very interesting moment in the history of several Latin American countries. Several even said that, in spite of the current morose environment in Europe and the US, most of Latin America is living “the most extended period of wealth creation and prosperity in its history.” Certainly, one could argue that such is the case in El Salvador, Peru, and eastern Bolivia.
Still, we must be cautious with respect to the current economic prosperity of the region. A country like El Salvador does significant trade with the US, and they will be somewhat adversely affected if American consumption falls for an extended period. In addition, the economies of countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Argentina are currently benefiting from very high commodity prices. The challenge will be to use the resources of the current boom to build a solid industrial base and national infrastructure. But, at least for now, the region seems to be living through quite a successful and optimistic phase.
Perhaps as an offshoot of this prosperity, there seem to be vast numbers of people interested in the subject of leadership, far more than in my past experiences here. In my audiences were significant numbers of not only CEOs, but also of middle managers and HR directors, curious about how to tap the leadership potential of employees at all levels of their organizations. I was quite pleased to note this phenomenon, as it may signal a movement toward more inclusive and less authoritarian styles of management.