SECOND IN A SERIES BY MIKE WHITTLESEY

Read Part I

Last Week: In February, more than 250 specially trained members of the John Maxwell Team paid their own way to Paraguay for the opportunity to participate in the launch of Transformation Paraguay, a week of intense training designed to begin making meaningful increases in the country’s social morality, national unity and strong economic growth. Among them was Waterloo’s Heather Marquez, CEO of Mind Links, LLC.

Despite a recent poll that indicated that Paraguay is the happiest nation on earth, the sad reality is that one-third of the country’s 6.8 million people live in poverty. And while Paraguay’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, corruption and the scourge of the drug trade has kept prosperity from reaching many of the country’s citizens.
Given these immense challenges, how does one begin the process of transforming a nation? Perhaps the best answer to that question is similar to the one offered by Creighton Abrams when asked how to eat an elephant: “Take one bite at a time.”
When Heather Marquez and more than 250 of her John Maxwell Team (JMT) colleagues began their work in Paraguay last month, they knew the “who” and the “what” of their mission would be critical to achieving success. Key leaders who could and would continue the work long after the Maxwell team had left the country would need to be identified and trained first. To guide those selections, the team looked for leaders in seven areas of influence in Paraguayan society, including Government, Business, Education, Family, Media, Religion, and Culture/Sports.
As for the content to be taught, team members used a simple, yet powerful way to begin translating values into specific, positive action steps. Developed by Global Priority Solutions and modified with John Maxwell for use in Paraguay, it’s a process known as the Round Table Method:

“The Maxwell Round Table Method is straightforward, using a set of leadership values pre-selected by Paraguayans, specially trained John Maxwell Team Members will each host a series of 15 values-based round table sessions, totaling nearly 4,000 sessions in all, structured around Maxwell’s newest thinking on Intentional Living. Each member of the round table reflects on how well they embody a particular value (for instance, listening), share briefly, and then make a positive statement about how they will improve that skill in the coming week. After discussing specific leadership values and how to personally improve upon each, table participants are asked to proactively practice the growth method for one week, then reach out to five members of their community and teach them the same process.”
-courtesy of prweb.com

As noted by Heather Marquez, preparation for the teaching that was done in Paraguay was actually several years in the making. In 2013, following a similar effort in Guatemala, 22 different countries reached out to John Maxwell for like-minded assistance. Paraguay was chosen because many of the prerequisite steps to indicate the country was ready for the process to begin had been completed.
“Our goal was to teach others how to facilitate the round table process. We took them through a round table that was focused on [the value] Attitude and demonstrated the process,” she said.
In this type of training, Marquez explained, learning how the process works is almost more important than the specific content being taught. Following their initial presentations, the Maxwell Team instructors then gave their trainees the opportunity to practice leading round tables of their own, using Competence as the selected value.
In the months to come, as the Paraguayans continue to replicate the process, developing and leading round tables of their own, Marquez said they will have a wealth of material to work with, in addition to considerably more time to internalize the concepts.
“There are ten values and six intentional living principles that they’ll work through in the course of 16 weeks,” she said.
“Ten values were chosen by the leaders of the country, the ones they felt were most important to make a difference. Our goal was to facilitate the process in a manner that allowed everyone in the room to be able to start their own round tables the following week.”
Once the round table framework has been mastered, it can be replicated quite easily, allowing the circle of influence and leadership to continue to grow and expand. The goal in Paraguay is to ultimately reach 10% percent of the population. If successful, approximately 700,000 citizens of Paraguay will discover a new purpose, moving from feelings of powerlessness to truly believing they do, in fact, have the skills and abilities to make a difference in their world; that they can change the course of their own lives and, in the process, transform their nation into something greater than it was before.
On her first day in Paraguay, thoroughly prepared and eager to teach, Heather Marquez found herself questioning her own purpose for being there. Selected as one of the trainers to work at a major public university, she and her fellow team members were ushered into a large gymnasium, filled to capacity with more than 1,000 students. Upon arrival, they were surprised to learn that they would not be teaching that morning. Instead, their role was simply to distribute materials to the students while a lone presenter led the discussion about the value Attitude.
Initially frustrated with her secondary role in the session’s activities, working as a participant rather than an instructor allowed her to have a conversation with a young interpreter who expressed the difficulties associated with being a student at that particular university. To qualify for admission, students had to have extremely high test scores. The competitive atmosphere was a stressful one, as students were mindful that they could be replaced at any time should their performance slip in the least little bit. In Paraguay, students attending the public university often come from families too poor to send more than one child to school. So many students, including this young interpreter, were also expected to have a job to support the family. The academic and family pressures, coupled with recent events at the university, where corruption exposed by students led to the dismissal and imprisonment of top-ranking school officials, had left many students feeling they had lost their way, not knowing what to do next.
“I challenged him to articulate the action step he would take in regards to attitude. I helped him understand the step should be specific, small enough so it could be done right away. His action step was to have a conversation with his mom about a job she needed his help to complete. Frustrated with her lack of openness to his suggestions, he had stopped helping her and was avoiding it altogether,” Heather recalled.
As their conversation continued, the young man was able to understand the personal impact and contributions he could make working with the Maxwell Team members as an interpreter. With an action step formulated, Heather added a level of accountability, challenging him to send her an email when the task was completed.
The following day, when Heather finally had the opportunity to lead a Round Table of her own, she realized there were additional benefits she had internalized from the previous day’s experience.
“The next day as I was teaching, I realized that during those times when I don’t immediately see a purpose, I have to trust that it will eventually be revealed to me. As it turned out, that revelation allowed me to share that story with the groups I taught and allowed me to connect with every other group I taught at a far better level than what I ever would have imagined.”
Her message to the Paraguayans was a powerful one about purpose and determination:
“You’re going to be in a group where some are forced to participate. You may ask, ‘Why am I here?’ Your job as a facilitator is to lend those people your belief and hope in them that they can make a difference until they build it in themselves. And you have 16 weeks to do that.”
For Heather Marquez, there was a personal lesson, as well.
“The lesson I learned is that there is always a purpose when you land somewhere, even if you don’t feel very good about it initially. There’s always a purpose.”

Next Week: What’s next for the people of Paraguay? Can the transformation sparked 5,000 miles away from home have application in Waterloo, Iowa?