Expert Spotlight: Mark Zalkin

Being a seasoned international trainer and coach since 1985, as well as having a long history of serving as a professor and lecturer at various colleges and universities in the U.S. and Singapore, Mark Zalkin has had plenty of thought-provoking – if not life-changing – experiences that he was willing to share with us.

What are some things that inspire you about interactions with clients/participants?

I have learned that I only have to keep an open mind and I will usually learn something from my workshop participants and coaching clients. Like many trainers and coaches, I have used certain exercises and questions thousands of times because they are effective in reinforcing a point.

After 26 years, I can usually predict about 98 percent of the questions, answers, and outcomes stated by workshop participants and coaching clients. However, many times, a participant will make a observation that I never saw or even considered. I look forward to picking up new insights and nuances from my participants. This reinforces the old saying, ” if you want to really learn something, teach it.”

What’s the most unusual location (or circumstances) you’ve presented in?

I was doing a five-day leadership development workshop at a high-rise hotel in New Orleans (during the era before mobile phones). Upon arriving at the New Orleans airport on Sunday afternoon, I noticed several banners, the streets were jammed, and restaurants had 1- to 2-hour waits. I turned around and had a quick bite at the hotel.

We had 30 people in the program, mostly from the New Orleans area, a couple from another US office of the organization, and one participant who came from a branch office in South America.

On Monday morning it was clear that this group of participants would be lively, engaged and energetic. My opening table group exercises went exceptionally well and I then reviewed the agenda for the five-day program. They seemed to be unusually enthusiastic about the program from their questions and behavior. I completed the first day and as I was packing my briefcase, a participant came to me and said he would probably be late on Tuesday morning. I asked why and he said that he lived on the Gulf Coast and that he had heard, at lunch, that there was a chance that there might be some heavy rains coming on Tuesday night. He indicated that he was going to be busy putting up boards on the windows. He would try to come back on Tuesday afternoon.

I thought nothing of it and went up to my room on the 23rd floor of the hotel. I normally turn on the TV and get the news but this evening I decided to take a short walk to the French Quarter. I noticed a surreal sense of quiet and very few people as contrasted with the scene a mere 24 hours earlier. Most store and restaurant windows were boarded up. There was the occasional sound of hammers coming from the quarter. I stopped one person on the street and asked what was going on, and she said that a hurricane was heading to the east coast of Florida on Wednesday; however, the latest projection was for it to veer northwest and score a dead hit on New Orleans perhaps as early as Tuesday night.

I went back to my hotel and turned on the news. Sure enough, New Orleans was in major shut-down mode. I quickly called my workshop contact, who knew less that I did about the situation in New Orleans. I said it was looking bleak that we would be able to run this program due to the weather forecasts. He said you must run it. I said I will do my best. Meanwhile, on the late evening local news, video showed thousands of cars jammed with people trying to leave the city. They announced that the airport would be shutting down at 3 p.m. on Tuesday and people needing to leave should make arrangements. I called my contact and they said, “What are you talking about?….run the program.” I said I would try but would also try to get a flight out of town on Tuesday afternoon. He was not very understanding. After being on the phone for several hours, I was able to book a stand-by seat on the last flight out at 2:50 p.m.

The next morning I had several messages from participants that they would not be in that day. I showed up at the workshop venue at 7: 45 a.m; the program started at 8 a.m. I figured I should wait at least until 8: 30 a.m. and then call the contact.

At 8:00 a.m. the one participant from South America showed up but all the locals were absent. At 8:30 a.m. I suggested she try to make arrangements to leave quickly. I called the contact who asked how it was going, and I said, ” It is not going as only one person showed up and the city looks like a ghost town.” He was still not understanding and I said,” I am packing up and leaving as I do NOT do hurricanes.”

I took a taxi about 11 a.m. to the airport expecting a traffic jam, but instead there was very little traffic. I was able to get on the flight, and with two connections arrived back in Denver 7 hours later. When I arrived at the Denver airport, my wife told me that that Hurricane Andrew switched course and hit major sections of Dade County, Florida. New Orleans was dry and sunny!

What is your favorite quote?

I have many favorite quotes but the one I like the best is:  “You are an architect of your own misery.  You also have the ability to remodel.”  –  Stephen Marmer, M.D.

I really like Dr. Marmer’s quote because it reinforces the concept of taking responsibility of your own situation and then doing something to start making changes.

I like to feel that my workshops offer my participants the beginning motivation and tools to begin to start the remodeling process.

Why did you become a trainer?

One major reason is that this work affords me the opportunity to meet a very wide range of very interesting people.

I also love the opportunity to share information with people, to receive the feedback that they enjoyed the presentation, and that the information will be very helpful to them in their work and life.

What are your most popular presentation topics?

Working With Difficult People,  Introduction to LeadershipLeadership CoachingManaging Conflict EffectivelyUnderstanding Yourself and Others (Behavioral Styles)Are You Meeting More and Enjoying it Less? and Time Management ( when I have time to teach time management).