“I want to come back humbled”

“I want to come back humbled” he replied when I asked the group what they wanted to get out of the experience. We were sitting round a camp-fire in Namibia on day 1 of a full-on, 7-day leadership course. No PowerPoint or management simulations here, no table-top problem solving; this was real building, digging and welding; real work in a real school with a real clients. Our job, to create a playground for an infant school in a poverty stricken part of Namibia. All in the name of leadership training. We were also going to be teaching classroom lessons and running sports classes with up to 350 mixed age children many of whom live on site in a series very basic hostels, most of their poor families living too far away to collect them each day.

The London based manager who wanted to come home humbled was one of 15 delegates on this course. He said in his role at work he was effective, capable, knew the answers and lived a good life but he wanted more. To be the leader he really wanted to be he wanted to know the meaning of difficulty and challenge to know what it was like to find things hard and to struggle, to overcome adversity. To lead in a situation where he didn’t know the answers, where he had to make decisions in the face of ambiguity and motivate people when things were tough.

All of the above happened in our time out there this October. I believe it is when we face daunting challenges that we grow the most, regardless of the outcome. In fact I believe the failures teach us as much as the successes. As Derek Sivers says “If you’re not failing … you’re not learning”.

On a tight budget, against a short time schedule, in 37 degree heat, with limited water for washing and with only a hole in the ground for our ablutions, we delivered a fantastic playground complete with see- saws, climbing frame, swings, shade netting and 50m of secure fencing.

We painted murals in the children’s bedroom and ran many lessons, we taught sports with the donated sports equipment the group had raised money for and lived for a week in a dried up river bed with no access to screens and technology. Contact with home was cut off and we battled the spiders and scorpions in our tents on a daily basis but we loved it.

We thought we were going to give to the little community called Okaepe in the Herero land, Namibia but actually it was these proud people that gave so much to us.

The children were delighted and we were humbled. Mission accomplished.