hy are you here? What is your goal?

That is the question you will almost always hear if you attend a personality-promoting seminar.

And, once, I heard the following reply.

“Power, Money, Women“.

To me, that sounded honest. At least as far as men are concerned, it seems to be the normal motivator. So it does not come as a surprise that, in such seminars, I almost exclusively meet men. In fact, it is also a match for our #metoo world. When all is said and done, everything will be as it will be.

I also heard many other answers to the question. They sounded nice. Mostly, however, they sounded like lies to me. Let me relate the following story.

You need to know that, like many other managers and consultants, I attended quite a few seminars and training camps on “promotion/building of personality for leaders and managers” during my active career. Initially, when I started my professional career with Siemens, I was more the engineering type person and was totally opposed to such seminars. I never volunteered to attend.

Roland on his way from the Jena Akademie-Hotel to the stadium (Carl-Zeiss).

When I moved on to the Softlab GmbH, my attitude changed. When I was around thirty, I attended a TPM (Training Psychologische Management) seminar. It was mandatory if you wanted to “move on”.

I was very sceptical when I went there – and returned enthusiastic. From then on, I was always the first to volunteer when a seminar “beyond the technological boundaries” was advertised. This is also how I first met Rupert Lay, who was going to become very important in my life. The same is true for other mentors.

The times when I was a newbie were not the only times when I witnessed that the coaches first asked the participants about their expectations. “Why have you come?“, or something like it is typically the first question asked at a seminar.

Today, I use this question whenever I open a seminar session, because I believe it makes a lot of sense. You get to know the seminarists and you can hear what their interests and needs are. If you are the coach, you can modify your own expectations to fit reality if they were too lofty. The question will definitely motivate people to think and it can also be used well towards introducing the really important issues that move us and that the participants are supposed to discuss.

During one of my first seminars under a famous coach, I heard the following answers to this central question:

… I am full of imperfections and want to improve on some of them. …

… I have a number of talents that I would like to give myself a chance to develop …

… at long last, I want to make that decisive step in my career I have been waiting for for such a long time. …

… I want clarity in my life and bring structure to same. …

… I strive towards an independent and responsible occupation because in my current job I am dependent on a systemic concern, which makes me unhappy. …

When questioned more persistently by the coach, some of the participants described in great detail what a great person they are and what a super position they hold. And that they want to climb up the ladder a bit more. And that, now, they want to learn how one can become even better and more important.

Well, that annoyed me a little. Everything was rather surreal, artificial and synthetic. Before I started, a gentleman (of course) spoke. Even his outward appearance seemed to radiate success. He also seemed absolutely charismatic.

His introduction was quite short:

I want more success!

When the coach asked back what exactly his definition of success was, his reply came immediately:

Success? For him, that was more power, more money and more women – in no particular order.

Wow! That was it. To me, this statement sounded somehow a lot more honest than what the men before him had said. Now they all looked like hypocrites to me. Perhaps this hypocrisy had annoyed him just as much as it had annoyed me?

I was the last to introduce myself. Prudently, I decided to say that

… I had not really given the question any thought and wanted to see what the seminar was going to do for me …

This statement was not really honest either. Instead, it was a carefully made statement that caused quite a few condescending looks from other participants. I read some incomprehension in those looks. How can anybody attend such an expensive seminar without having a goal at all?

These looks came especially from the hypocrites. Well, it was no surprise, because at the time I was by far the youngest participant and the only one who wore jeans and a polo neck sweater. None of the exclusive twine that the nobility wore. But I had learned: it is all about power, money, sex. It became clear to me at the time. And this insight is certainly something worth thinking about. Not just because of #MeToo.

After all, what is power? As I see it, power develops if you have special personal characteristics or if you have a special position or wealth. In our society, it is probably best if you have all three of them:

  • Personal characteristics
    On the plus side, this might include your good looks, your well-modulated voice, your height, elegant and suitable clothes, grace and authenticity, a good education, a pleasing personality, good manners and natural authority. People with these characteristics will certainly find it easier to get a good position than others.
  • Position

    Important positions in the state or in important institutions will “give you power”. The power of the office will transfer itself to the person. System agents pretend that the power of the system they represent is their own power.
  • Wealth
    Wealth gives you power. Others want a share of your wealth and consequently subordinate themselves. Incidentally, it was on purpose that I wrote wealth, instead of property. Because nobody is interested in whether or not the imperium has stability. The only thing that matters is its splendour. So what our protagonist wanted was more power (i.e., personality, position and wealth). But he also wanted that funny stuff.  Which is synonymous for money. Which brings us back to power.

In our society, only one basic right is important: the preservation of your achievements. We also have a mantra of faith: “If you have money, then there is nothing you cannot buy”. That includes power. You only need enough of it. This is how money and power become synonyms.

But our protagonist also wanted sex. Because in his (or in our general) concept, you can assume that there is nothing you cannot get if you have enough power and money.  Including all women.

Perhaps our successful protagonist just saw it as a good joke. Just like they do when they sell realty. They have three central criteria:
Location, location, location.
And perhaps all he wanted to say was that power, money and sex, in our #MeToo world, are synonymous anyway?

I fear that this is what characterizes our society. It polarizes. Money makes power – and – power makes money. And if you have both, you have everything. This is how our society and our planet will collapse.

And what is our reaction? We get upset about sexism. Perhaps even rightly so. But it would be better if, just because of a little sexism, we would not totally forget the other catastrophe that ruins our world (money and power…).

Incidentally, if you work as a mentor, the question is also a good warming-up strategy. For instance, I often ask new mentées what they would wish to achieve as a result of our mentoring in the future. I often hear quite appealing replies.

At one time, a young man answered that it is his goal in life to fight extravagance. Because he detested “waste“. And that this was actually the reason why they selected me as his mentor! Because everybody knows that I, too, detest “waste“!

That is true. And it made my day. We started our work. And it turned out well!

(Translated by EG)

5 Kommentare zu “The famous first question when you attend a personality-building seminar.”

  1. Thomas Kleiner (Sunday May 6th, 2018)

    Lieber Roland, ich erlaube mir einen kleinen Hinweis, der aus eigener Trainererfahrung seit 1996 herrührt: die Frage nach dem “Warum” zwingt viele Teilnehmer in eine negativ konnotierte Weg-von-etwas-Antwort (und genau in diesen Kontext werte ich auch die Kohle-Weiber-Antwort). Frage ich hingegen “Wofür sind Sie hier?”, kriege ich eher selbststeuerungsaktivierende und selbst erreichbare Punkte (die nicht immer mit den Punkten, die der externe Sinnstifter des Trainings (also die Person, die mehr Sterne auf der Schulter hat), als bei der Frage nach dem “Warum”.

  2. rd (Monday May 7th, 2018)


  3. Hans Bonfigt (Thursday May 10th, 2018)

    ist Chris Wood im Urlaub?

    Ich vermisse nämlich dessen Zwischenfrage,

    “Haben die sich im Seminar geirrt?
    Es hieß doch nicht: ‘Mehr Erfolg — Voraussetzungen und Techniken’.

    Persönlichkeitsentwicklung — ist das nicht letztlich eine Strategie, mit dem, was man hat, zufrieden zu sein?”

    Ich persönlich bin ja eher der Meinung, daß man den Weg zur eigenen Persönlichkeit schon selber gehen muß.
    Sonst ist man hinterher eine Blaupause von Heiko Maas.

  4. rd (Thursday May 10th, 2018)

    Danke für den Kommentar!
    Das war damals so:
    Es gab ein Management-Institut Hohenstein, das war für die “Oberklassen”-Seminare berühmt. Und die Rubrik für die Top-Manager der Deutschland AG hieß Persönlichkeits-Entwicklung. 🙂 Und die Teilnehmer, von denen ich berichtet habe, waren auch lauter “Spitzenleute”.

    Mehr “Erfolg – Voraussetzungen und Techniken” gab es so oder so ähnlich auch, das war damals aber für das untere bis mittlere Management.

    Persönlichkeitsentwicklung ist für mich der Versuch reifer, gelassener, weiser … zu werden, auch um zufriedener Sterben zu können …

  5. Chris Wood (Thursday May 24th, 2018)

    Dear Hans,
    How nice of you to think of me.
    I am not really on holiday.
    In 2018, I have had three heart operations, two minor, one major.
    5 weeks later, I am recovering well.
    If you want details, let me know

Kommentar verfassen