Leadership Reflection Summer Two

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Reflecting upon my leadership development has now become a second state of mind. Through personal essays, feedback from coaches and supervisors, and peer review I now learn about my leadership at several intervals throughout the year. Yet, if anything, the one thing I find through these avenues is that I have so much more to learn, rather than less. This feedback opens up new directions for discovery, new ways of thinking and, exposes biases I have been blind to. However, unlike when I first applied to the Laidlaw Programme, this is no longer something that instils fear but rather curiosity. Curiosity about discovering how I behave. Curiosity about how I relate to others. Curiosity about how I can see change between my past and future self. The biggest development over the past year is that I was reminded that leadership is a practical skill. It makes a difference when done correctly, and is workable solution to issues we are presented with in our world; climate change, social inequality, human right injustices. These issues present no quick fix, there has to be investment in the people who are becoming leaders. As such, there is no such thing as a passive leader and through the past summer in particular this has come to the forefront. To delve into this deeper I will discuss the second Laidlaw leadership day, Ejaj Ahmad’s discussion of active leadership during the summer’s Global Leadership Talks, and how I now look at my own leadership after the past two years of my development.  

 

To begin with, I must look at the discussions and outputs of the second leadership day back in March. During this day we reflected on different types of leadership, distinct to our original DiSC profiles. These six leadership styles were Directive (principled and authoritative), Affiliative (people came first, the end goal came second), Participative (involving everyone regardless of ability and experience), Pacesetting (leading by example), Coaching (focused on team and individual improvement while still goal orientated) and Visionary (inspiring the group towards a common goal). These new styles gave me a different way of analysing and identifying leadership qualities and methods. Here I discovered I was most likely to be drawn to the Affiliative and Coaching leadership styles. As I have identified previously from feedback and my DiSC profile I am more likely to position the individuals in a group first over the goal or task. This outlook has remained the same since my application to the Laidlaw Programme, and it is something that is a natural reaction for me. What has changed however, is my ability to admit such rigid adherence to one or two styles limits my ability as a leader, and the capabilities of my group. With all the leadership approaches mentioned above there are extents to their benefits, and as such they must all be employed to form a complete and effective leader. I naturally seek to maintain balance within the group and I continue to use this but, I also acknowledge when a push is needed that I need to implement other styles of leadership. For example, the Directive leader who gives clear instructions or, in other situations the Visionary leader maybe more suitable to inspire my group to an end goal, when a clear path doesn’t exist. This movement between leadership styles should be a fluid process. As Goleman neatly laid out in his article ‘Leadership that Gets Results’, the use of such styles should be seen the same way as a golfer uses his clubs.[1] He says in depth that:

“Over the course of a game, the pro picks and chooses clubs based on the demands of the shot. Sometimes he has to ponder his selection, but usually it is automatic. The pro senses the challenge ahead, swiftly pulls out the right tool, and elegantly puts it to work. That’s how high-impact leaders operate, too.”

This image is extremely useful when reflecting on the active nature of leadership. The different leadership styles should be used interconnectivity and with the same ease as taking a different golf club out of the bag. Moreover, the club or leadership style, is always in relation to the context of the shot or in other words the situation at hand. Leadership styles are not a one-size-fits-all. It must be used in relation to different people, circumstances and aims. Therefore, my natural ability to over use the Affiliative and Coaching role is not in of its self negative, it means I have to work a lot less to effectively achieve those styles. Yet, it is not the end of my leadership development. I cannot merely accept my strength and let my weaknesses wither. I now need to continue to build up my other ‘golf clubs’ so I can use them when the situation best suits it.

 Following on from the realisation above, I have come to understand the real skill is not merely knowing the above leaderships styles but instead, knowing when you are to use them, otherwise such understanding is useless. I must therefore continue to educate myself about my own leadership styles, their tendencies and about the leadership styles around me. Therefore, I need to take time to invest in knowing and progressing myself. A good leader is confident in who they are, and not just how they relate to other people and situations. Moreover, my vision of what I desire to see in myself as a leader is important. It gives me direction, motivation and places my development in a goal that isn’t transitory. This motivation came to the forefront after much thought and in particular, the leadership session with Ejaj Ahmad on ‘Developing Leadership in Action’. Ejaj Ahmad is founder of the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre (BYLC), a leadership institute in Dhaka, Bangladesh.[2] The institute began with one core programme of leadership development, back in 2008 and hit the ground running.[3] It now holds several courses from five different leadership programmes to professional development courses to investment opportunities for young founders, all ranging from school age to graduates.[4] In addition, in the past year the Centre hosted a virtual South Asia Youth Resilience Submit.[5] During his talk, Mr Ahmad, was open about the issues his country was facing and how his non-profit was reacting to them. He knew that there were merely 200,000 jobs for approximately two million new entrants to the job market.[6] Mr Ahmad saw this issue and its result of mass unemployment, and determined that the solution was going to be found in investing in leadership. If he developed young minds in Bangladesh, there would be new ways to invest, new businesses to be involved in and it would be the young people who would go on to find the solutions themselves. His own leadership style, and the leadership of his students, was to meet the issue head on. It was the epitome of active and practical leadership. This discussion with Mr Ahmad was remarkable for this reason. Leadership has been shown to me over the past year to be an active part of my own growth but what I had not yet encountered was how this development of good leadership could be seen in the real world. Mr Ahmad’s discovery of a real issue on the global stage was met with a practical solution which is making an impact. It is creating the next generation of empathetic and disciplined leaders, who were tackling problems within our world and it is inspiring.

 Ultimately, Mr Ahmad demonstrated for me that leadership is action. You can learn about it, read about and get told about it, but leadership is nothing if you don’t try anything out for yourself. Of course, this means failing! Often in our academic setting, the idea of failure is something to be avoided, a negative. Yet, failure is what questions our behaviours and causes acts of reflection that can be the making of our leadership. Mr Ahmad was clear to note that the Centre was borne out of tests and trials, that often went wrong. Yet, the most important thing was doing something, to not be passive but seek improvement where faults were found. This is very straightforward but all the more valuable for it. In essence, it is acting now, whether it creates success or failure, because this will teach you more, change you more and make you a better leader. Furthermore, this idea of acting now through Mr Ahmad’s account demonstrated another realisation for me. That leadership is a social skill. As Prentice correctly contends in ‘Understanding Leadership’, “[w]hen the leader succeeds, it will be because he has learned two basic lessons: Men are complex, and men are different.”[7] People are not motivated by the same ambitions and do not approach work in the same ways. He goes on to say that “A great leader’s unique achievement is a human and social one which stems from his understanding of his fellow workers.”[8] This is the foundation of leadership that I failed to grasp the importance of. Leadership is understanding people. Yourself and those around you. Understanding differing motivations, histories and values. Moreover, it is how each of these individual can contribute to the team and where they can endeavour to improve. To be striving to be the best versions of ourselves and seek the same for others. Before I began the Laidlaw Programme, leadership in the practical sense of the word was a mystery to me. It was abstract, general and something other people did. Now my mindset towards leadership is something practical; a tool to be used. To try, and try again when things fail. To invest within yourself and to seek opportunities to act out leadership. To help others and to solve the issues that are in our world. There is no prescribed setting to what the situations and issues look like. They can be in a café, in an office or in a school. It is our behaviour that matters, and how that relates to the people and context we find ourselves in. To find the issues that mean something to us and to seek change with the support of a team, is now what I see my role as a leader as.

 In conclusion, this understanding is the core of leadership and it is how I shall be seeking to improve in the coming months and years. In the immediate weeks, I will be continuing playing for the University of St Andrews Women’s Football team and I am seeking to join the St Andrews Coppafeel Committee in its upcoming AGM. Here I will gain further experience and understanding of myself and my own leadership qualities, and more importantly gain valuable practical experience of leadership alongside my fellow team mates. In addition, I will now be looking for issues in the world around me that I am enthusiastic about and discuss practical solutions for them that I can begin implementing now, and in the future. Moreover, I will continue to be active in my leadership, to try new roles and join new teams. To fail at aspects of my leadership but more importantly, continue to reflect on my progress and my biases.

References

[1] Daniel, Goleman, ‘Leadership that Gets Results’, in Enterprising Minds (California, 2004), p.80.   

[2] Anon., ‘About us’, Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre, https://bylc.org/ [accessed 27 August 2020].

[3] Anon., ‘About us’.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Anon., ‘South Asia Youth Resilience Sumbit’, Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre, < https://bylc.org/resiliencesummit2020/> [accessed 27 August 2020].

[6] ‘Talk with Ejaj Ahmad’, Laidlaw Global Leadership Talks, 16 June 2020, < https://laidlawscholars.network/videos/ejajrecording> [accessed 26 August 2020].

[7] Prentice., W.C.H., ‘Understanding Leadership’, Harvard Business Review, January 2004, https://hbr.org/2004/01/understanding-leadership[accessed 26 August 2020].

[8] Prentice., W.C.H., ‘Understanding Leadership.’ 

Bibliography

Anon., ‘About us’, Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre, https://bylc.org/ [accessed 27 August 2020].

Anon., ‘South Asia Youth Resilience Sumbit’, Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre, <https://bylc.org/resiliencesummit2020/> [accessed 27 August 2020].  

Goleman, Daniel, ‘Leadership that Gets Results’, Harvard Business Review 78:2, (March, 2000), reprinted in Enterprising Minds (California, 2004), pp.78-90.

Prentice., W.C.H., ‘Understanding Leadership’, Harvard Business Review, January 2004, https://hbr.org/2004/01/understanding-leadership [accessed 26 August 2020].

‘Talk with Ejaj Ahmad’, Laidlaw Global Leadership Talks, 16 June 2020, < https://laidlawscholars.network/videos/ejajrecording> [accessed 26 August 2020].

 

Rebekah Cathcart

Undergraduate , University of St Andrews

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