Eyes Up @ Darden #4 – Other people’s shoes can be uncomfortable

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We all expect to cover topics such as political correctness, negotiation, influencing and coaching on a leadership program.  What I didn’t expect was that my biggest learning from this final part to the Women’s Leadership Program was that sometimes – no matter how uncomfortable – we need to learn to stand in other people’s shoes before we can even begin to lead effectively.

Yesterday we considered political correctness, led by the charismatic Dr Martin Davidson (www.leveragingdifference.com).  I’ve loved all the presenters this week, but Professor Davidson was definitely my favourite – for his energising effect on the class, his obvious intellect and above all good humour.  The concept of the different layers or dimensions to diversity was new to me and has changed my thinking – whilst I am a woman, and therefore less dominant in some situations such as the boardroom of a financial institution, I am also a white anglo saxon – which in different circumstances of cultural mix,  has the potential to make me more dominant.  If we perceive discrimination against us on the basis of one dimension, we need to question ourselves carefully about what the other party is thinking, seeing and feeling before we label that behaviour .   In most cases, especially with working mothers, there are other issues at play that have nothing to do with being female and everything to do with parenting and work/life balance.  I can’t fully express here how much impact this session had, maybe after I’ve read Prof. Davidson’s book I can be more enlightening…so watch this space.

We had heaps of fun practicing negotiation skills, which provided some very useful tips for the next shoe or handbag sale I attend as well as for the workplace!  Then we moved to the auditorium to practise our leadership presence on the stage – using some very liberating voice and body exercises.  The point to this was firstly, to relax, and secondly, to gain more understanding of the mix of visual and vocal tools we can use to more fully engage an audience of any size and better convey our message.  Again this has left me wanting to study more in this area as I am starting to believe it’s something I can become really good at if I practice.

On the final morning, we got to deliver our own response to the question “How’s Business?” – to leverage these leadership presence tips in a 2 minute soundbite of our choice.  At the last minute I decided to correct something which has bothered me since the 24th June when I was awarded the Women in Banking an Finance (WiBF) Turkslegal Scholarship to come to Darden.  On that particular day, I had been told I would be named at the WiBF lunch where 500 people were waiting to hear from David Gonski, a well regarded Australian public figure.  On arrival, I was informed I would be presented with my award on stage, but would not be required to say anything – which I found quite a relief!  But of course, on receiving the award I was asked if I would like to say a few words – and promptly flushed, shook my head and exited the stage.  I’m sure there were a few people who admired my humility, but as I walked away all I could think of what what an idiot I had been to miss an opportunity to say something even slightly memorable in front of 500 well connected and important people.   I had failed to grab the mike when offered.  Unforgivable.

If I walked in the shoes of the audience that day, even though they were really waiting the hear from David Gonski, I would have felt disappointed that the award recipient didn’t even speak.  So today I re-enacted that moment properly.  OK, so there were only 12 people in the room – but the feedback was great.  I will  keep practicing.

As our final closing today we all chose to write a word on the blackboard (yes they still have those here!) saying what this week meant to us – as this is the last Eyes Up @ Darden,  I’ll leave you with some of them to ponder – and perhaps LuluLemon might like to re-do their bags with them!  I know I’ll keep coming back to these as reminders of this week – as I put myself in others’ shoes and see where my potential can take me.  Eyes Up will be back soon… stay tuned.

Pay it forward – practice – believe – recharged – authentic – mission focus – encouraged – energised – acceptance – blessed – inspired – courage – prepared – meaningful – change – eye opening – network – calm – unfinished – connections – chemistry – inspire

Eyes Up @ Darden #3 – Bankrupt, but still Mission Focused and Paddling Hard…..

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It’s been a couple of days between entries as I’ve been busy with my learning team-mates bankrupting a company.  Yesterday we began a team assignment to run a business manufacturing power inverters over several years – the objective being to maximise the stock price.  Fortunately for us, the exercise was not about winning, or about the intricacies of manufacturing, but about team dynamics.  No secrets in the team room – the first few sessions were recorded for our coaches to provide feedback to us!  What did we learn? You don’t need the pen in your hand to have power – but it helps!  Our team dynamic was great and everyone was encouraging – doing the exercise over an extended period allowed different behaviours to surface, and we all got to know each other better.  It was particularly good to see that the skills and leadership qualities we all have are transferable to areas where we are not experts, so none of us need to hide behind our particular specialist areas – we’re well equipped to lead anywhere.

At the start of yesterday, we all presented our Best Self Portrait which I mentioned in my Darden #1 update.  This was a sometimes emotional journey but very insightful – it is amazing how often something you thought people didn’t notice had a big impact, even several years on.  In my case, I was struck by the way that stories from family and friends were reflected in comments from work colleagues – us women are in the main very harsh judges of ourselves, and we can gain a lot from asking others what we do well on a regular basis.

One of the things I have noticed about the environment here is that it sits somewhere between the formal corporate world and the free spirited learning environment of my undergraduate days.  There is something about Darden that pays homage to the underlying history of the University of Virginia but makes me feel like I am somehow experiencing a very modern learning experience.  This afternoon we had one of our most compelling sessions yet.  Somewhat surprising, given the timeslot in the “dead” zone of early afternoon.  Our debrief on Donna Dubinsky’s experience at Apple, again early in a very successful life story, uncovered truths on how to deal with conflict – and the need for a “mission focused” rather than a “self-focused” mind set.  I have the feeling I will refer back to the notes from this session over and over again as reminders to keep the “stupid” switch, which flips when we get self centred, angry and frustrated, firmly OFF…  by trying to look at situations without emotion, and above all remember in all our interactions that people are human, not objects.

So I’ve adapted my main leadership learning of the day from this session, to compare leadership to surfing….  It doesn’t matter how beautiful the wave is, or how great the equipment, if you don’t paddle hard enough before the wave comes, you will never ride that wave.

No matter whether you succeed or fail, great leadership is not about the actual moment you make a decision, it’s how you set up to make that decision.

Still learning to paddle hard here!!