Bringing The Leadership Challenge to Southern Mexico

Teaching leadership is always a joy for me, and never more so than when I feel that I am providing real value for people engaged in community development efforts. My latest opportunity to do this came in the fall of 2017 when I was able to deliver The Leadership Challenge® to just such a worthy group in southern Mexico: Colectivo Ambiental Isla Verde.

Teaching Leadership

Through a program I teach for the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship at the University of California- Davis, I first met Isla Verde’s coordinator, Itzel Morales Lagunes. She was in the U.S., along with 170 other mid-career scholars, for advanced training in leadership and in her field of study: climate change and sustainability. Having studied in the U.S., Mexico, and Scotland, she is a climate leader with former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has given dozens of presentations throughout Mexico on the urgency of acting to mitigate the threats of a changing climate.

Itzel found her experience with The Leadership Challenge so powerful, she invited me to bring the program to her home community of Ciudad del Carmen (known simply as Carmen) and share The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model with her colleagues and other community activists working to build a more sustainable culture in their city.

H Ayuntamiento de CarmenCarmen, located on Carmen Island in the Mexican state of Campeche, has been a center of petroleum development since the 1970s. This has brought tremendous growth to the area, although the boom-and-bust cycle the oil industry has experienced over the past few years also has created a degree of chaos. Itzel and her colleagues are keenly aware of the effects of rapid development on their city, and the threat posed by climate change to an island whose highest point is only 15 feet above sea level. She knows that it will take leadership from many of her fellow citizens to succeed in tackling the major issues they face. That’s why Itzel was so eager to facilitate bringing The Leadership Challenge to her city.


A diverse group of leaders

Working with Itzel, and my wife, Diann Grimm, we crafted a three-day program based on The Leadership Challenge framework for this diverse group of 20 volunteer community organizers. Participants represented a number of different local nonprofits and schools, although most of the group had full-time “day jobs” as well. And nearly all spoke and wrote only Spanish.

Team photo

Although Spanish-English translations presented some challenges, having the Spanish language version of the LPI® assessment available to us from Wiley made the core concepts and behaviors easily accessible.

In addition, as I did my best to make the lessons of leadership relevant within the context of this distinctly different culture from my own, Itzel and her team came to the rescue as interpreters, which made it possible to conduct the entire classroom program in the participants’ native language.

A Flexible Program

While we followed closely the overall structure of the traditional two-day The Leadership Challenge Workshop, we did make a few adjustments. We extended the program to three days to accommodate the extra time needed for translation, and expand on Inspire a Share Vision as this particular Practice is so central to the needs of social entrepreneurs. We also allowed for a little more fun time with the group. And overall, the ways in which we customized the delivery of this program truly helped make the experience particularly meaningful for many of the participants.

For Ricardo Enrique Luis Limon, one of the founders of Isla Verde with a long history as a community activist, the impact was transformational.

“I have taken many classes to better understand leadership, and it has always seemed like a collection of puzzle pieces. After this class, I feel that I have turned the pieces right side up and see how they fit together. I now understand what a leader does to make a difference.”

It never ceases to amaze me how powerful The Leadership Challenge materials and research are. In Mexico, as in the U.S., people are hungry for a better understanding of what it means to lead, and for a behavioral roadmap to being more effective in creating a better future.

Once again I was struck by how easily people take to The Five Practices model, and find it immediately recognizable and relevant to their world. All in all, while it was challenging to create and deliver this unique The Leadership Challenge experience in Carmen, it was also both fun and deeply satisfying to be “giving back”.

This article first appeared in the February 2018 issue of The Leadership Challenge newsletter.


Dan Schwab

Dan Schwab is a Leadership educator, coach, Certified Master and a 30-year veteran working with The Leadership Challenge. He works primarily with clients in higher education, non-profit, and government.