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By Daniel Benefiel | Oct. 17, 2016

How I Found My trueU

Early in 2016 our company’s owner, Tom Morales, along with our Executive Team, decided to endeavor into a partnership with trueU and never looked back.  We rolled out the trueU Portal to our organization, immediately focusing on the growth and development of our entire staff – many of whom have never been afforded the opportunity of such an empowering investment.

Part of our partnership with trueU involved myself and a co-worker, Adam Scholtes, being registered into the Leader In Training (LIT) program.  This was to be a six month course, two days per month, surrounded by business professionals from a variety of industries, ages, backgrounds, and life experiences.   We were the 9th Graduating Class to have gone through LIT, and I found the experience to be both humbling and penetrating.

I cannot speak for my fellow Leaders in Training, but I do not believe any of us knew exactly what to expect from the LIT program.  Perhaps we may have brought some of own personal expectations on how to grow as leaders, but I believe that none of us knew exactly what LIT 9 would truly hold.

Our first class was March 24th, and it focused on our DISC assessment, where we explored our own personality styles.  It was an interesting exercise in honestly assessing yourself and categorizing our behaviors into four basic categories:  Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance.  The next time we would see each again was April 29th down at the San Diego airport, before we crossed the border towards Ensenada.

Ensenada was, for most folks, their first experience outside of the United States;  their first experience seeing abject poverty in person, up close, and personal.  Their first experience seeing a six person family live in conditions that we only saw on television or read in the news.  Once again, we arrived to the home build work sites not knowing what to expect, what it would hold, or how we would all grow.  Without drawing upon those powerful and intense memories causing the reader to reach for a box of tissues, I will say this: Each one of us grew to appreciate our family, friends, and the simple things that many took for granted back home.

We humbly experienced and were exposed to parts of ourselves that we may not have known to exist.  The words – evocative, meaningful, and unforgettable – do the experience injustice.  I am positive we all drove home from the Indianapolis airport, walked into our homes, and felt that somehow it all just looked a little different than when we left.  Though those feelings have perhaps faded in some of us, I challenge each past and future graduate of LIT not to allow them to evaporate completely.

It was in Ensenada where we, LIT 9 students connected, and built our own foundation to bring back to our remaining classes together.  It may sound cliché, but we all truly did arrive as strangers and returned closer than we could have expected.

There were two specific classes that impacted me personally; the first was Change Management.  Because as Dan Nierste, our COO likes to sarcastically say, “Daniel just loves change.”  In the middle of LIT 9, my awesome, growing company implemented a series of internal structural changes, sweeping process modifications, and I was slotted to move into a very different role than I’ve had in my career.

Working through an honest assessment of these comprehensive changes during the Change Management courses allowed me to objectively look at how changes are perceived.  If you looked at the “Change Curve” and had to plot a dot on where I landed, you would have found me cemented in between “shock” and “confusion” and struggling terribly moving towards “integration” and “commitment”.  The real life white board example of a tense meeting at a Fortune 500 auto manufacturing plant outlining with their management team ‘Control versus Influence’ is forever seared into my brain.

The second course that hit home was the Conflict/Communication class.  And I mean that literally. It hit home.  Upon taking the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode © assessment, the results were dramatically apparent.  I broke the scale on “Competition” and was very low on “Accommodating”.  If the assessment could have scored in the negative, I’m sure that’s where my Accommodating score would have landed.  Upon finalizing our scores in class and reading characteristic descriptions of what a high-Competitive, low-Accommodating individual is like, I snapped photos of the results and sent them to my awesome wife.  She texted back “Aww babe, that’s surprisingly accurate.  I still love you though!”  Later than night, she took the assessment herself and came out with high-Avoiding and medium-Accommodating.  Learning how different styles, communicate, conflict, and interact was a powerful exercise for not only my professional life, but my personal life as well.

One underlying element that I drew from the LIT experience was this: Many incoming LIT graduates perhaps thought LIT would be a generic exercise on simply “how to be a better leader.”  When in fact, internal struggles we had been experiencing were exposed; or better yet weaknesses were discovered that we could candidly build upon – in a professional, educational, and safe setting.

Rather than trueU LIT engaging in some high level, vague, Power Point clicking, page reading approach towards “growing people and growing businesses” – Gretchen and her team somehow tapped into us individually and exposed the raw version of our professional selves.  In my opinion, LIT forced us to look inside ourselves honestly and objectively, and that created the foundation from which we would grow.

I am not sure about many of my classmates, but I took lessons, techniques, and epiphanies back to both my company and my home.  I doubt there is one person from class, who has not had a few Courageous Conversations, in or out of the office following that class.  I doubt there is not one person who was not enlightened to approach Conflict and Change with a more deliberate approach.  And I doubt there is one person here, who during our 40, or 50, or 60 hour work weeks – will not look back,  draw on some principal taught to us by the trueU Team, and use it to benefit their relationships in their professional or personal lives.

So from the LIT 9 Graduating Class, thank you Gretchen Schott, Sam Thompson, and the entire trueU Team for operating such an impactful, insightful, and beneficial program for business professionals from all industries, all walks of life, that allowed us to come together two days a month and put our cell phones down, disconnect from the grind of our job and lives – and grow us, as people.