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You can’t market what you don’t know!

Written by / Monday 23rd April 2018 / ION leadership news, / Blog posts

So, after 16 years working for the same company, in March 2018 I moved west and joined the ION Leadership team at Swansea University. I’m not going to lie, I was terrified. Having spent so long working in the same place with a lot of the same people (ace people!), what if I had made the wrong decision? What if I wasn’t up to the challenge?

Fortunately, six weeks in and I am loving it.

However, I’d marketed the same thing for 16 years, and to be honest I didn’t really know the first thing about leadership development so how on earth was I supposed to persuade other people to join a leadership programme. By joining the leadership development programme, that’s how.

In my third week at ION, I joined one of their leadership programmes with the aim of experiencing what the delegates experience, hoping that it would make it easier for me to market the programmes going forward, and I would blog about it as I go along.

I’ll start with an obvious disclaimer. I’m an ION team member writing about an ION programme and my job is to get more people to sign up. But, this isn’t going to be me just talking about how amazing the programme is and how awesome ION are. Obviously, I’m going to say that, however, I’m also going to write my personal story of what I learn about myself as a leader and a person.

I joined the programme for the Overnight Experiential (OE) which is a 2-day overnight (the clue is in the name) learning event where I met my fellow delegates for the first time at the wonderful, if not a little bonkers, Court Coleman Hotel in Bridgend.

The delegates were a real mix of people from different industries, different age groups and different backgrounds, but they all had one shared objective — to become better leaders. But as we all found out by the end of day two, everyone was moving in the right direction to achieve so much more than that.

The thing which stood out for me very early on was how quickly everyone bonded. The relaxed environment created by the cohort lead, the wonderful Jill, meant that within half an hour of meeting for the first time there was a great atmosphere with plenty of banter and people sharing personal stories about why they were on the course, with pretty much complete strangers.

Now I am not going to go into huge amounts of detail about the type of activities we completed as it would give too much away but the ION Leadership learning style is experiential learning — ‘the process of learning through experience and is more specifically defined as learning through reflection on doing…’.

Before joining ION, I didn’t really know what experiential learning was. But after two days it really clicked with me as a leadership style. It’s definitely not ‘chalk and talk’. I genuinely think that over the two days I only spent a total of about an hour in the ‘classroom’. The rest of the time we were (mainly) outside doing activities involving juggling balls, blindfolds and over-sized chess-boards. The activities really made me think. As they did my fellow delegates.

One of the activities made me so frustrated. I couldn’t actually get over how annoyed it made me feel and I hated it, but in a good way. I was not in control, I had no idea what the purpose was and I was not involved in the decision-making process. And it frustrated the living daylights out of me. But what it cemented is that I am motivated by purpose. I want to know why I am doing something. I want to know why I am getting up early every morning and spending time away from my wife and kids. Not bad for 20 minutes stood in a field in Bridgend.

The overnighter means that obviously some ‘team building’ takes place in the bar and over food. The Court Colman has the Bokhara Indian Restaurant, four-time winner of the Best Curry House in Wales, as part of it so it’s safe to say we had a great meal. What goes on tour stays on tour though, so we will draw a line under the rest of the evening.

A key element of the 2-day course for me was the opportunity to get away from the office, to get away from the distractions of modern, working life. How much time do we genuinely spend focusing on ourselves or our businesses? People wear being busy as a badge of honour and feel that they can’t take the time to be away from their mobile or email. If you have the right people in your business then you can and it will do you the world of good. You need to spend time working on the business rather than in the business. Working on the bigger picture.

I learned that to get the best out of me don’t sit and talk at me. Make me think, challenge me, make me feel part of things and work things out for myself. That’s when you engage me. In one of the activities the ‘site manager’ just kept telling me to not worry about anything: ‘You are getting paid aren’t you’, whilst not involving me in the decision-making process at all or even telling me what they were trying to achieve. I hated it.

So, after three weeks at ION, what did the programme teach me about my job?

The ‘product’ itself is great, the people who are on the course love it and the impact of the course on them as leaders/people and their businesses is evident. What I/we need to do better is to communicate the impact of the programme and ensure that as many managers, leaders and entrepreneurs as possible get the opportunity to participate and become extraordinary leaders.

Bring it on.

(This blog was originally included on Marketing Manager Adam Fairbank Medium page -


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