- On 2. December 2016
Preben Werther just turned 66. He doesn’t show his age, but like he says, ”a lot of water has actually found its way into the stream”. He communicates visually. It makes much more sense to him. He expresses himself in a metaphorical, colourful language which is easy to understand. He has a solid military background as an officer through 25 years, with all the related additional training and education. Less than 400 special forces soldiers have been trained since 1961. Preben is number 197. He himself has been through the entire programme and has subsequently been responsible for training a great number of these soldiers. Over a period of 12 years, he has acted as what is called the Commanding Officer Training Wing.
Preben started his career in the private corporate world as an employee at Lego, where he worked for 3 years as a ”change agent”, reducing the development time of a new product from 3-4 years to 1 year. That is the platform that Lego works from today – the platform that generates billions – and which Preben participated in constructing back in 2000. After that, he was employed for 7 years at Stifinder A/S, an organisation that works with 360 degrees development. He incorporated a lot of learning from the special forces soldier corps into the path finder programme. In the corps, they don’t only work with their brains, the body is extremely important in the process. In order to achieve the maximum learning, we must make the training both physical and practical. You have to apply your body, because your body represents a full 100% of you. They work 360 degrees with their head, body and heart – all the way round, based on the philosophy that if we are not complete human beings, we cannot solve the most complex tasks. This approach applies to all contexts – also to love. If we are not one hundred percent present, then don’t bother. Then it just becomes talk.
At one point, Preben starts out for himself and establishes the company Wolfway. He is inspired by nature, the principles that control nature and have done so for thousands of years. He was born and grew up on a farm, and he likes the regularities associated with nature, for example the law on harvesting. If you want a many-fold return on your investment, then you must follow the principles of going all the way back and starting at the beginning. You have to make sure that the soil has been treated properly, you must then sow the right crops. You then have to water and fertilise for a long time. You must be patient until the crops are ready for harvesting, and when they are ready for harvesting is not something you yourself decide. It is a decision made by others and/or nature. This is also the way things are in the corporate world. We just tend to forget that. We work with a concept called instant gratification. You think you can harvest the day after you have seeded, but you cannot. That approach most often ends up taking an inadvertent direction, and the queue by the washbasin is often long because not many people have the courage afterwards to admit that it was their fault that things went wrong.
What is it that Preben Werther delivers? He calls it “stuff that works”. It is strong liquorice, strong medicine. It has been tested in all kinds of contexts so it works everywhere. Even though the concept behind a process may be vaguely defined, it is highly concrete – because the result of the process is an effective personal development plan. It is not something that he sits down and shows you the first day. If you want to own your own development plan, then you must draw it up yourself. Preben does not draw it up. He sets up a creative space where you can gain as much insight into yourself as is at all possible, so you are able to convert the plan into reality. This is based on the philosophy that a lot of plans are made all the time and all over the place, but if you yourself does not own the plan then is it just a plan like any other plan. If it isn’t your own plan then it most often suffers an undesirable fate when it is faced with reality.
What is it that you have to offer?
I am good at a lot of different things. I have tried many, many things. Learning, insight and experience have all been built into a method that I use when I work with the corporate world or people in general. It is all based on the school of life. Everything is collected under a concept called “stuff that works” – and time has shown that the concept works everywhere. It is a kind of universal tool that can move everybody from A to B. In the corps we have a proverb saying: “We are capable of 10 times more than we ourselves believe, and 100 times more than our mother believes”. We only know a little bit about ourselves but despite that, most of us have succeeded in acquiring a white picket fence or whatever we wish for, – but imaging what it would be like if we could unwrap the package completely so it matches our potential. Imagine what we could achieve. This is the secret behind the special forces soldier corps. We unwrap the package, and this is also basically what I am doing right now. If we are ambitious, if we let go of all the boundaries and restrictions and show some courage and daring – think of how far we can take ourselves or our organisation. This is the dimension that I have worked with during recent years with AlfaNordic – and AlfaNordic was made National Gazelle winner last year. What magnitude have we been working with since AlfaNordic now has the courage to tackle such a development?
Where does all this come from?
The wolf pack is one of the more successful predator flocks on the planet and is characterised by a hierarchy that is not up for discussion. I am highly inspired by the wolf pack and by nature in general. That is also why I call my company Wolfway. The old alpha male rules the flock, and if a member of the flock is discontented, that member is welcome to challenge the position. If it is up to the task, it can take over. If it is not, it receives a thrashing and peace sets in again. In those circles they are not sitting down with their herbal tea. Matters are settled. It is a hierarchy that works – a hierarchy that creates respect.
In a wolf pack, the members share knowledge and are trained all the time so that all members are fully aware of everything. All flock members are familiar with all the tactics. The old alpha male is the one stomping the trail. He leads the way when the flock is going to kill the big stag. He puts his life on the line and he knows it, so he needs to plan it all in a larger context. Can the flock survive if he is not there? It is necessary that the next generation of wolves possesses just as much knowledge as he does. If he goes down attempting to kill a big stag then the next wolf must step up immediately. A minor struggle may possibly erupt as to who is now the new alpha male but when that is over, peace and quiet settle in again. Knowledge sharing is extremely important in order to achieve a prompt reaction time, avoid loss of time and falling behind. The wolf pack is at its best when something is at stake. The flock goes hunting when it has to. The flock is very conscious as to when it must be good and when it can fall a little behind. When needed, the pack rises to the occasion and delivers the goods immediately. A deal is a deal. You can always sense a wolf pack. All the animals in the forest know where the wolf pack is. They can feel the energy surrounding the pack. We sometimes meet other human beings who surround themselves with a special energy that we sense immediately. They can enter a stage and take it over if that is what they want. They don’t need a lot of preparation. They are self-contained. It is important that leaders and managers radiate that same energy. If they have been on-stage or performed something then nobody is in doubt as to who was just in the spotlight.
A wolf pack also does a lot of playing. There is lots of fun and trickery. They have found the balance. We have to have fun, but we also have to work. In some places, we work extremely hard with no reservations. That makes us depressed. In other places, people are naive optimists and nothing gets done. The wolves have figured out that if they do it this way it pays off. Then they can play and socialise afterwards.
Why is everything kept a secret before the boot camp?
The candidates should preferably be unaware of the details of the process. If they have knowledge of the process, then they may prepare explanations ahead of time of the contents of the boot camp and import way too many things from their daily lives. They must feel everything on their own bodies when they are in the middle of it. The agility and robustness that emerge from this teach them as future leaders to relate to the situations they find themselves in instead of saying: “The handbook says that…”. This is the readiness to change and the courage that will characterise these pharmaceutical leaders when they start making decisions.
How do you make a person change willingly?
It is important to understand who the candidates are. Where they are coming from and where they are right now. I don’t spend much time on what has found its way into the stream earlier. I am more interested in a person’s strengths and long-term potentials. It is more important to know where a person is right now. For this, I apply an Insights Discovery Profile analysis. It provides a very precise description and I ask the candidates to relate to it in order to find out how well it hits home. My experience shows me that it almost hits spot-on. Then we know something about the starting point for the personal development. It is also important that the candidates are aware of where they want to go, both with regard to work and their private lives. What does it take to get them there? What might the ”journey” look like? How can we measure it? For that part, the candidates are introduced to the agile and proactive acting/thinking strategy. Briefly told, it means that somebody or something creates your future, and that somebody might just as well be yourself. The purpose of the programme is to create awareness and to render the potentials visible to the individual candidate. A number of elements/potentials appear that may show the individual candidate the desired direction. An expedient sequence of potentials and activities are drawn up and the candidate has then, during the process, made his or her own development plan. It is true that I have contributed to the process with a methodology, a format and a framework but the individual candidate makes his or her own plan.
Parallel to the planning process we are working on self-confidence and self-esteem. We unwrap the package. The candidates acquire quite a bit of new self-insight. The programme has been designed in such a way that we ”visit” the edges of the comfort zone with a view to constantly shift the individual candidate’s awareness of what he or she can do. Every time, the personal and professional self-esteem is increased as is the self-confidence. We are in principle cultivating the personal courage. One of the fundamental principles for learning something about yourself is that you have the courage to step outside your comfort zone. Most people think along linear lines – a straight line from A to B – but that is not what the world looks like. The road from A to B is actually often one large doodle where we don’t apply awareness most of the time. In this case, we try to come from the outside and make many of the unconscious processes visible – and there are a lot of those. For example, just think of you driving a car. We pay attention, but how conscious are we of the process? It’s about visualising when we are running on autopilot. The individual autopilot must be made smaller so that we are more conscious of what we are doing.
Does it require courage to willingly change?
A lot of people talk about the concept of courage. What is it to have the courage to do something? To have the courage is to meet yourself, or as Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher) describes it (freely translated into English): ”To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily, not to dare is to lose oneself”. Going to the borders of yourself means doing something instead of talking about it. When you get out there, you can feel yourself more distinctly. We begin shaking in our boots, we get bellyaches and experience other unpleasant responses. Out there is where we can learn and make discoveries. Out there we get to understand. Out there is where we may sense what reactions our body have when we are under pressure. We bring people out of their comfort zone, but within a safe and comfortable framework. Pushing people out there provides them with an entirely new experience. We make sure that they themselves want to go all the way to their borders. Each individual possesses courage to a greater or lesser extent. It is like a muscle that must be trained in order to be strong. Talking about courage is free. It doesn’t cost anything. It is however more difficult to demonstrate against courage. Let us see how much courage the individual candidate has. Let us see whether the individual candidate dares. Maybe you are afraid, but if you want to be a leader in a pharmaceutical company, what skills, what talent, what strengths must you be able to draw on? For this, we need to get hold of the individual candidate’s fighter attitude. It takes its starting point in the energy you radiate. A lot of people suck energy out of everything and everybody. Everything comes to a stand-still when they have been there. A fighter makes things happen. A fighter walks the talk. A fighter assumes responsibility, is balanced, and offers praise. A fighter has surplus energy, and a fighter loves what he or she is doing. It is not just a good plan – both heart and ownership are behind the plan.
When is your approach mental and when is it physical?
The programme is a mixture of both. It is important that the candidates are in unknown territory, and the way we do this is to invite them to my home turf which means that everybody will be in unknown territory. It is within this framework that I will challenge them, they must be pushed to the edge of their comfort zone. Some people react to something, and others to something else, but everybody reacts to something. The more I know, the better. What is it actually that holds the individual person back? Why are you sitting on your hands? What are you afraid of? An English proverb says: ”As long as there is a payoff, you stay stuck”. So we must find out what payoffs you are getting and thus prevent you from willingly changing. Maybe you avoid confrontations. Perhaps you avoid being honest. In that way you are doing something undesirable. If you have done that 10 times in a row, then it turns into unconscious behaviour, a pattern/an autopilot controlling your life. We have to find the reasons why. If you regard yourself as a hot air balloon about to fly, what are the sand bags holding you down? We need to become aware of and put those sand bags into words.
What is your role in the Academy training?
I have known AlfaNordic’s management for a lot of years. I trained some of them as pathfinders all the way back in year 2000, so they know me well and they know what I stand for. The Academy concept has two “legs”: The business-related and the human leg. I have been asked to handle the human part of it, with a boot camp as a starting point when the candidates will meet themselves and start unwrapping the package. They will establish a proactive plan. After that, I follow up on the individual candidate every six months. The 4 days at the boot camp will hopefully build a trust between the candidates and me so that – regardless of what the candidates encounter during their process – they will be able to share it with me.
Can you be a bit more specific about the boot camp?
In order to take the candidates out of their accustomed surroundings, the boot camp is arranged as an outdoor event. The candidates will be living in tents side by side. A lot of human-related aspects will suddenly be a real presence. They must relate to each other in various ways, for example to some people snoring. We have to teach them about teamwork and they must get to know each other. What are the resources that they each bring to the table and contribute with? What can they offer? How can they in unison solve the challenges they will be faced with? There will be a number of teamwork exercises where they must draw on each other in order to solve the tasks. They will also be faced with some inexpedient tasks where you would normally say: “Somebody else is probably going to solve this task”, but in this case, there is nobody else to solve the task. This is outdoors for better or worse, with woods, water and mud. We have to move the candidates to places like that, where they bridle a little. Concurrently, we give them some tools they can use for solving tasks and performing exercises. They are at the same time introduced to quite a few self-confidence tests, where they get close to the edge of their comfort zone – supported by instructions from me that they must follow. If they don’t follow them, they will probably not succeed in completing the tests in the proper manner. They need to trust the instructions and they need to trust me. This is about what we have agreed upon, and this is also what we subsequently do. This often produces some moments of truth. Some aha experiences when they really walk through their own fear. We work with speaking from the heart, talking about something which means something to the individual graduate. More than 50% of what we are saying is understood via body language. If we are capable of expressing it via body language, then we are into strong communication. To some people, this may seem frightening – for example to people who have all the control in their heads and are thus in control of everything. You are immediately able to see whether there is consistency between what they say and what the body signals.
Apart from this, everything is done in a learning loop with an introduction, an implementation and finally, a recapitulation where we extract learning. The next step is bridge-building to our daily lives which is a method used to make the learning operational. The plan is to make time along the way for the candidates to write down insights, realisations and experiences in their diaries so that all learning is retained and thus has a long-term effect. The diary becomes a part of the proactive plan. It is turned into a method/tool used for retaining the learning in their daily work. It will be the candidate’s collection of pearls of wisdom, all categorised as “stuff that works”.
It is a very intensive process so the candidates get a lot less sleep than they normally do. I use the fatigue factor to make the candidates lower their guard. If I am to work with the human being then I have to remove their guard and one way to do this is to make them tired. They turn into real people because they are simply not able to keep up a front. They figure out how to live up to the principle of one mouth and two ears. In today’s Denmark, a lot of people work according to the principle of two mouths and one ear. They talk and talk, and nothing actually happens or gets done. During boot camp, a lot of things happen and get done, and here, the candidates learn important aspects of leadership, teamwork and communication.
What do they bring home after the three days?
They will acquire lots of individual insights concerning their own and the team’s doings. They have also received some tools to help them see how you can work and think. They have acquired some ideas of how to operationalise learnings and insights. A development plan with long-term focus. Clarity as to what the individual candidate must keep an eye on for the next six months. So all in all, that is quite a good output gained during only 4 days.