Change leadership interview: Holger Nauheimer

Berlin Change DaysWhat inspires you, as a leader,  consultant or coach? What lessons have you learned? One of Holger Nauheimer’s lessons was learning that doing less and trusting the process is the core skill of a change facilitator. His mission is to help leaders and organizations live the values that the world needs. Holger founded the annual conference “the Berlin Change Days” and has been a change leadership facilitator for more than 20 years. A collegial chat to recollect what we have learned and are still learning.

Marcella Bremer: Who is Holger Nauheimer?

Holger Nauheimer: “I started my career 30 years ago as an agricultural advisor in the horn of Africa. I worked with nomads: camel, goat and sheep herders. I learned a lot at that time. They taught me how it is possible to live in uncertainty by following their economic goals but constantly adapting to changing environmental conditions.

Follow your goals but constantly adapt to changing conditions Click To Tweet

Ten years later I changed the path of my career and decided to become a change facilitator. I learned what change means for organizations and for the people in it. That fascinated me. I am now a facilitator of change and better leadership, working for corporate and non-corporate clients around the world. I have worked in more than 70 countries with more than 3000 leaders.

For example, one of my exciting projects in the non-corporate world was working with African leaders who are involved in peacekeeping & building and working with them on their leadership skills.”

Marcella Bremer: What do you believe in?

leadersHolger Nauheimer: “I believe that if we have better leaders we will contribute to a better world. I keep saying to the participants in my leadership courses: the way you treat your employees, the kind of conversations you have with them at work, extend to the kitchen tables at home.

Do you really want them to talk with their spouses over supper about their miserable boss and their lousy day? Sometimes I think this is how wars get started… They start at the kitchen table. With one of my corporate clients, I’m working on Courageous Conversations. It’s about having the right conversation whether you’re a manager or an employee, wherever you work.”

Marcella Bremer: Why do you organize the Berlin Change Days?

Holger Nauheimer: “I created the Berlin Change Days because I dreamed of a conference that I would love to attend myself. There are a lot of conferences out there, but sometimes you find yourself thinking, “Why did I end up here? It’s so boring.” Over the years, I have been blessed with meeting many fascinating people who share my passion of better organizations and a better world. I wanted to have them all together like a family gathering. I envisioned an event where people can meet, share their insights and co-create new solutions for the burning problems we have in the world, and in organizations.”
If we have better leaders we will get a better world #change Click To Tweet
Marcella Bremer: How did the Berlin Change Days evolve?

Holger Nauheimer: “It started as a small and local initiative in 2009, with 30 participants. We quickly saw that we filled a gap and more people were coming, every year. The BCD grew by 50% every year until we reached the number of participants that seemed a number large enough for having the necessary diversity but still being intimate enough for people to connect. Now, we have people from all over the world who attend the conference. It seems that participants like it. They love that it’s intimate but still professional.”

Marcella Bremer: What do you love about your change leadership work?

Drops - touch peopleHolger Nauheimer: “What I love about my work: the feeling that it’s possible to touch people. There are experienced leaders in organizations that I admire for the work they have done. When they connect with their inner core and explore the possibilities they have to create a better organization – that is a big reward.
I also had this young Chinese student in a leadership course who started out by saying “I don’t think I can be a leader. I am better at following.” After five days, she said in the closing round: “Now I see that I can be a leader but I have a long way to go.” Those are the people that drive me.”

Marcella Bremer: What have you learned in all those years?

Holger Nauheimer: “One of the main lessons I learned when I started with Open Space Technology. Harrison Owen and Marvin Weisbord really had an impact on me. At that time, it was totally counter-intuitive to all my old-fashioned facilitator beliefs.
Doing less and trusting the process is the core skill of a facilitator #change Click To Tweet
I started to understand that doing less and trusting the process is the core skill of a facilitator. I remember that at that time it caused me physical pain to give up control – I always had to leave the room right after I opened the space because I couldn’t stand the tension.

The second thing is to focus on responsibility and accountability – first of all to myself. And: reminding people that they have responsibility wherever they are in the organization. Passion is important, but accountability is equally important.”

Marcella Bremer: Dare you share a mistake that taught you something?

Holger NauheimerHolger Nauheimer: “My lesson: Never assume. When you work in intercultural environments, always have your radar adjusted to local cultural conditions. Although I work in many different cultural settings it still happens that I fall into a trap. For example: I often work in Azerbeidjan, I have been there so many times during the last six years. Some time ago, I wanted to do an icebreaker with the group where they would touch each other’s shoulders. I would never do that in an Arabic country but I thought Azerbeidjan is such a secular country that this wouldn’t be an issue.

But I found out men and women wouldn’t touch each other in such an intimate way. So, that was a bit embarrassing. What I learned from that is to never make assumptions. Be part of the field, swim in the field, observe the field.”
Lesson learned: don’t make assumptions. #change facilitation Click To Tweet
Marcella Bremer: What is it that you are still learning? What’s a challenge about this work?

Holger Nauheimer: “The older I get the more I learn about myself. I don’t care so much about learning new tools and methods. Sometimes it is good to expand your toolbox but it is not really my focus. Basically, I am learning to understand my mental state when working with clients. I also learned that some clients love to work with me and others don’t like it at all. While this used to frustrate me, I understand that I am good for some clients but not for others. I want to even better understand what is best for each individual client and how I either adjust my style or decide that I should be out.”

  • What inspires you as a leader, consultant or coach?
  • What lessons have you learned that were eye-openers or that you found difficult?

The Berlin Change Days takes place on November 6-8 in Berlin, Germany. The conference is held each year in the first weekend of November. Mark your calendars!

Marcella Bremer is an author and culture & change consultant. She co-founded this blog and

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  1. Robert Farquhar

    An interested observer. SYMLOG is one of my favorite tools assisting leaders in their change efforts.

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