The Center refuses to define leadership – that is as it should be. But it will define creative leadership as enabling people to move beyond obstacles to accomplish more than they thought was possible.
Creativity defined this program, and the Afghans, Americans and interpreters were certainly creative during it.
As the Afghan officers arrived for the program, many were what I pictured – hardened warriors, surviving not only years of war, but also seven testy years of uncertain peace. These men were the ones who were left, after thirty years of fighting an external enemy, then internal strife, then oppression, and now insurgency – these men had met and mastered the challenge of being true warriors. But could they lead an Army?
The classroom was within the historical Bala Hissar fortress. Those familiar with Afghan history will recognize the role the fortress played in every major event in Afghan history since the 12th Century. It was known as a place of torture, of great pain, and of transition. It was where the Afghans first defeated foreign forces, and it is where they assassinated elected presidents following coups. The irony did not escape me that we were using this same ground in an effort to move the country forward, using the positive nature of democratizing leadership to help prevent the Bala Hissar from being used the same way again.
Believing that to be success, this program had to run with the quality of CCL program on any campus. We began with the fundamental idea that CCL could not teach them anything about leadership – but it could provide an environment within which they could learn to be better leaders. I told them that I was in Kabul to learn from them – that people who teach do so because they are so excited about learning.
Then I tested them.
The national hero of Afghanistan is Ahmad Shah Massoud – he was the leader of the Northern
Alliance until his death the day before 9/11. He is revered in Afghanistan with the reverence reserved in America for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
I wanted to get them thinking out of the box quickly, so I asked them a simple question – “What made General Massoud a good leader?”
When I saw their eagerness to write, their earnestness in their answers, and their shock that this was going to be about Afghans and Afghanistan, I realized that CCL had not only done the right thing, but we were about to do something very real and very permanent.
For the next three days, the Afghan Officers and their mentors endured the same challenges, revelations, bonding and cohesion that are the hallmark of a CCL program. At first skeptical, they drew their leadership windows, describing what made them good leaders and what they wanted to learn about leadership. They chose images from Visual Explorer that defined leadership ‘in their hearts and in their heads.’ They survived the Blizzard exercise and created consensus through teams – something many believe is close to impossible. And they mastered the helium stick activity, working together as teams to communicate and break down barriers.
At the end, one of our students, the nephew of General Massoud, commented to our American Sponsor, with his hand over his heart ( a gesture of great sincerity in Afghanistan), “..thank you for brining this to Afghanistan – we needed this training…All Afghanistan needs this training…thank you…”
Then I realized that in spite of the danger, the location and the population, we were not doing anything different from what CCL does every day – act on its beliefs, its principles and its mission:
- All people are leaders and simply need to find the best way to lead.
- Anyone can learn to be a leader if they want to stretch and try new approaches.
- When provided support plus a safe and secure environment, people, regardless of background, will experiment with new ideas and create new opportunities.
In addition, I realized why CCL exists – “to advance the understanding, practice and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide.”
Moreover, I felt lucky to have had the chance to show this ideal to a small group of Afghans and Americans, locked in a struggle with an enemy that abhors the essence of that mission.