One weekend in and the journey towards self-awareness begins

By Natalie Cope, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient 

NatalieCope2-(2)You know those moments when you realise you’ve been walking around in a cloud of blissful ignorance? Suddenly, the cloud breaks, and you find yourself on the ground, clear of reality in all its visceral detail? Well my friends that was me at the end of the first weekend of Leadership Practice and Development, and the first full weekend of my MBA. And just what was the detail that came into full view I hear you ask? Well, it was simply me, myself and I.

Had you asked me before the event how I expected to feel at the back end of my first weekend, I’d have probably quite glibly and confidently stated I expected the outcome to be, “oh inspiring and challenging but ultimately rewarding”. The truth though, is that I could never have anticipated the emotions I encountered and the realisations that came to the forefront.

I often talk about wanting a challenge and being outside my comfort zone. The first weekend took me to that place, and beyond. As you would to strengthen a muscle, we were repeatedly required to do reps; to perform exercises that forced us to see ourselves, and to do so from every vantage. If you are truly open to this experience it is both uncomfortable and confronting. Learning about you is hard. Harder still is truly appreciating the impact that you and your behaviour have on those around you.

Prior to the weekend, I spoke about wanting to develop greater self-awareness, while quietly believing I already had a good understanding of self, or at least a conceptual understanding of self-awareness. However, I was wrong. I had not previously appreciated nor properly understood the extent to which the manifestation of ‘self’, whether through your strengths or areas for development, can and do affect those around you. An ability to influence when optimized truly can mobilise the best efforts, excellence and energies from others. Not employed with caution, an ability to influence will overwhelm and exclude many.

Transition this to a real life organisational context, and you begin to appreciate just how critical a genuine understanding of self, and your impact on others really is to effective leadership. While challenging, this was an incredible and immensely valuable transition for me to make. To move from conceptual understanding to genuine appreciation has now armed me with a revised perspective and with it the ability to change. This I hope inches me a little closer to becoming the best possible me, so that I can bring out the best in others.

The first weekend was a powerful and awakening experience, the insights and learning of which I am still grappling. But the best thing about being brought back to ground zero is that the only way is up. This really is the beginning of a journey, one I am glad to be on, and the road ahead appears a lot more appealing when you know that you are joined by a likeminded cohort who are equally committed to this experience and determined to grow.

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From the schoolyard to the boardroom: Learning to play well with others

By Richard Mayo, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

R.MayoMost of us work in teams.  Teams at work, teams at home, teams on the sporting field – and have done so most of our lives.

Up until recently I hadn’t given any real thought to what this meant in terms of productivity and happiness.

So it came as a shock to me when I started my MBA and found that the foundation leadership subject (which every student completes) was focused on improving how we work in teams.

My undergraduate qualifications in law and journalism had not prepared me for this. But as I continued my MBA journey, I started asking myself ‘Why in the world am I only just learning this stuff now?’

My experience with teams in the legal profession was not pretty. Say I have a problem. I should know how to solve that problem on my own. If I don’t have the answer, I will have to ask my boss. Expect him or her to be angry at me for not having the answer. Expect them to tell me what the answer is and to get out of their office. If a less senior employee has a problem, expect the same thing to occur, except this time I’m the irritated one telling them the answer and to shut the door on the way out. ‘Team’ meetings involve the bosses telling the rest of us what we were doing wrong.

To all those people who I told to shut the door on the way out, I’m genuinely sorry.

The lessons I’ve now learnt are deceptively simple but surprisingly nuanced. I needed to learn to listen, communicate more effectively, set expectations, appreciate, and then manage difference, and conduct an honest appraisal of my own strengths and areas for development. And they were just the lessons from the first weekend of the first subject!  As with so many things in leadership, the devil is in the detail and will take a long time to master.

Fortunately, working in teams is not a side note to the MBA; it is part of every aspect of the MBA, including subsequent subjects. The MBA becoms a microcosm of life – we work in teams all the time. Every subject, every assignment becomes an opportunity to further master these incredibly important skills.

Why are they important? For me, I am happier. I feel more engaged by team tasks. I feel better understood and appreciated and my stress levels have gone down. I hope and believe that my team mates (in any particular team I’m in) also experience this benefit. The bottom line is increased productivity with less work.

The beauty of knowing, practising and perfecting the skills of working well in teams is that it is so transferrable. A fellow team member of mine in the course has taken these lessons to an elite sporting team with success. I have taken these skills back to my workplace and even to my home environment, improving my relationships as I go.

I have learned a lot about working well in teams and the benefits involved. There is still a long way to go and I look forward to continuing my learning for the rest of my MBA and beyond.

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Would the REAL future leaders please stand up?

By Anmol Saini, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient

4702 UN WOMEN SCHOLARSHIP AMNOL SAINIThere is a distinct buzz in the air in the lead up to International Women’s Day (IWD) each year. Stories and statistics about women and gender equality surround us in the news, magazines and social media – the good, the bad and the ugly. Numerous events are held during the week of 8 March in every corner of the country and around the world. So what exactly is all this hype about?

IWD is a “global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future.” (UN Women Australia)

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the IWD Panel Discussion hosted by the University of Sydney Business School and the IWD Breakfast in Sydney hosted by the Australian National Committee for UN Women.

These events included an inspirational lineup of panelists, featuring Senior Executives from the Institute for Cultural Diversity, Australian Association of Women Judges, ASX, Women and Work Research Group, TAFE SA, Aurizon, and the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs – Solomon Islands Government.

The panelists and various other speakers led thought provoking discussions on gender equality in its many facets – social, political, domestic, academic, cultural, corporate and economic.

Both events had a consistent underlying theme – a call to action – 20 years on from the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (the most progressive global commitment ever made towards advancing gender equality), it is evident that there is still much work to be done.

Although 127 countries, including Australia, now have legislation against domestic violence, NSW Premier, the Honorable Mike Baird, highlighted that approximately 40% of the NSW Police Force’s time is spent addressing domestic violence issues – 40%!

If our statistics are so poor in Australia, an educated, forward thinking and developed nation, what is going on in regions where social and academic education is simply not available to the average person?

Our Dean, Professor Greg Whitwell, raised a few major concerns around university demographics, including the fact that although over 50% of the University of Sydney’s undergraduate students are female, recent statistics show that female graduates, on average, currently start on lower salaries than their male counterparts – in fact, this pay gap only widens as women move up the corporate ladder.

If we are only engaging 50% of the resources available to us, then we are only working at 50% of our capability as a global community.

Professor Marian Baird, Director of the Women and Work Research Group at the Business School, discussed a survey conducted of senior men and women in leadership roles which highlighted cultural barriers to be the biggest barriers to women in leadership. As an example, on the topic of flexible working arrangements, the research suggested that cultural change improves when male and female leaders role model flexible working – having the appropriate corporate policies and programs in place is simply not enough.

Clearly, while some progress has been made, that progress has been too slow. The Executive Director of UN Women Australia, Julie McKay, reminded us that “it is the role of individuals to champion gender equality…it is up to us to create change.”

Let’s make sure that conversations around women’s rights are not restricted to a single day each year. As future leaders, we are well placed to take action – drive conversations, raise awareness and take initiatives within our workplaces, our businesses, our classrooms, and in our homes.

We as a global community will not be fully functional until we master the art of engaging the whole population in every facet of life.

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Wishing you every failure

By Kate Bennett, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Well there’s no other way to describe the first weekend of the University of Sydney MBA program: insanely intense, ridiculously rewarding, considerably confronting and mind-blowingly motivational. I honestly feel like I’ve had a rocket firmly inserted up my backside and that I am about to be launched into a whole new realm that I never even knew existed.

The Leadership Practice and Development (LP&D) unit is the first of the program, and one that our cohort all go through together. The group is brilliant and the diversity of minds, personalities and backgrounds is truly exhilarating. The experience that we’ve shared in this first weekend is nothing short of life-changing.

Having the opportunity to witness everyone opening up, facing themselves, identifying and acknowledging the impacts of their behaviours on others, being visibly perturbed and rocked by the findings and realisations, and then (through their strength and positivity) finding a way to truly connect with themselves, face their demons head on, take responsibility for their behaviour and identify ways to positively transform their approach was truly inspirational.

I was not immune to this experience, and equally learned a phenomenal amount about myself, the full extent of which I will not go into here as some things are best left in the realm of personal reflection. However, I will share my 3 key personal insights and lessons learned, in the hope that maybe they resonate with some others out there:

  1. I place so much pressure on myself to succeed (result), that I’m never truly present and engaged in the task at hand (process).
    Lesson learned: “Be Present!”
    If I’m mindful and truly engaged in the process, the result will take care of itself.
  2. I feel the need to know absolutely everything theoretically before I feel competent enough to confidently apply the skill/behaviour in practice.
    Lesson learned: “Try Stuff!”
    Needing to know everything rather than just getting in and trying stuff, not only keeps me from stepping up and trusting my innate abilities, but also prevents me from developing those skills and behaviours in which I am less competent.
  3. It’s a vicious cycle: when my perception of my abilities is low (insight 2) I tend not to get involved, which compromises the result (insight 1), and reinforces my perception of my own abilities (insight 2).
    Lesson learned: “Fail fast!”
    My fear of doing and failing is actually blocking me from doing and succeeding – so if I ultimately want to succeed, I need to just get in and!

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to a spectacular 2015 full of gloriously fast and fabulous failures!

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Leadership Practice & Development

By Philip Gray, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and ‘Leadership Practice and Development’ unit coach

LPD-Blog-PicMy first interaction with the Business School’s MBA inaugural subject, ‘Leadership Practice & Development’ (LP&D), was sitting in class as a fresh-faced student in February 2014. I can vividly remember my first day in its entirety – including what was going on around me, as well as my own internal rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions. I can summarise the former in five words: ‘how impressive is everyone else?’ I can summarise the latter in six words: ‘I’m WAY out of my depth.’ If you’d told me then that I would be an LP&D coach in 12 months time, I would have told you that you have rocks in your head (that’s a technical term for ‘your predictive powers suggest to me that you aren’t very bright’). But here I am, 12 months down the track, reflecting on my coaching journey to date, which without doubt has been one of the most enjoyable, challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

As a student, LP&D was the catalyst for significant change in both my personal and professional life. I had never built such relevant skills in such a short space of time in any other course. This, combined with theory on the overall personal development process and effective career management, caused me to reconsider (or perhaps to consider in a sufficient level of detail for the first time) my own self-perception and evaluate what I really wanted to do and achieve as an individual. The end result of that for me was a complete shift in career function towards an area that is truly aligned to my strengths, interests and values. I have no doubt that without LP&D, I would not have experienced such a positive change in course.

When initially toying with the idea of applying to be a coach, I looked back over my time as a student and very much wanted to be a part of the program again. I thought about the incoming students and was motivated by the potential to help create the world-class learning and development experience that I’d had during my experience. However, when thinking about the calibre of students that would be involved, a hint of self-doubt crept into the back of my mind about my ability to be an effective coach for them. This, in combination with the time and effort required to be a coach, other MBA subjects, a career change and potential travel plans for 2015, initially caused me to shelve the notion of becoming an LP&D coach. At the completion of our first coach meeting, I seriously considered giving myself an uppercut for the internal air time I gave to thinking about throwing out my coaching application. Thankfully, the oh-so-useful skills learned in LP&D helped me to overcome my own self doubt, prioritise tasks according to what’s important, and follow through with something that deep-down I really wanted to do.

Training to be a coach was a confronting experience that required a personal commitment to be present and engaged. During our training sessions, I and all the other coaches were again hauled into a state of conscious incompetence (CI) with Mike Jenner at the helm – he is very effective at causing people to realise there are always areas to develop or further refine. Those who have experienced CI (I’d be very surprised if you haven’t) will understand that it is not an especially comfortable space in which to put yourself. But it is exactly this space of being challenged that is the key ingredient for leadership skills and behaviours to develop and flourish. To further add to this challenging environment, one of the coaches (I’m not one to name name’s – but it was Richard Mayo) came up with the idea to film our training sessions and post them to a private Youtube channel for us all to review. With the benefit of hindsight, this was a fantastic idea that I have no doubt contributed greatly to our rapid pace of development.

So, how did ‘game day’ go? I approached it with an odd cocktail of feelings: excitement, nervousness, curiosity and determination to achieve our goals. Once we kicked off, my initial nerves were quickly replaced with an overwhelming sense of pride to be part of a team willing to do whatever it took to support the creation of a world-class learning environment for every student in Cohort 4. Throughout the weekend, I found myself getting sucked into the time warp that is LP&D (commonly referred to as ‘MBA Time’). During this phenomenon, I observed students learning and developing their skills at an amazing pace across a host of areas including teamwork, active listening and self awareness.

On reflection, the most rewarding part of Weekend One for me was hearing the insights shared by the students themselves as they progressed through the various activities and challenges thrown their way. These insights reflected a thorough understanding of the theories, concepts and skills that are core to LP&D. Further, it was a sign that the learning environment we were collectively striving for was being achieved.

As a coach, LP&D has equipped me with a wonderful set of skills, great friendships, a broad range of professional connections and a renewed self-belief that I am confident will lead to another year of success and excitement. I am already looking forward to Weekends Two and Three, and meeting the students of Cohort 5.

I have never been a part of such a supportive and dedicated team in my life (and I’ve been part of a lot of teams). To that end I want to extend a sincere thank you to Aaron Kwan, Angus Edwards, Damien La Caze, Henry Playfair, Karis Dorrigan, Kristy Bartlett, Marriel Cochico, Maurya Rieder, Mike Jenner, Nick Flood, Richard Mayo and Ross Xenos (in alphabetical order because I love you all equally) for allowing me to join you on such a rewarding journey.

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Global Executive MBA: Managing Growth (Stanford University, USA)

By Jonathan Wu, current student in the Global Executive MBA

gemba-jonathanRecently I have returned from the United States where I took part in the Global Executive MBA module, Managing Growth, at Stanford University. While being nervous about what learnings the US would bring since the last time I visited was 15 years ago (3 months before the 9/11 tragedy occurred), I was pleasantly surprised.

My first impression of the Palo Alto area (where Stanford is based) was innovation on steroids. The speed at which things were moving and the affluent nature spoke volumes about the monetary rewards being reaped from the aforementioned innovation. Throughout the two weeks, we heard from successful venture capitalists, and their strategies on how money makes more money (many of which made their first pot of gold from a radical innovation and used that to then leverage their returns). We also gained some impressive insights from Dr. George Schultz (Secretary of State under the Reagan administration) about global politics and where to from here for the world at large.

While looking into growth strategies for businesses (including my own), there was a strong underlying theme which came out, that being incremental innovation/improvement vs disruptive innovation.

Many of the businesses we looked into over our time were the large MNCs, which while large, also found it very difficult to bring to the market disruptive innovation, and could only really achieve it by acquiring small businesses with the right characteristics. To me, this seemed like a defensive strategy for the large MNC to defend its place in the market by buying out the still “small” player before they got too large and disrupted their key revenue drivers.

The US definitely is a highly adaptable economy and the module certainly did not disappoint. Next stop on the Global Executive MBA, the maturing nature of the European market!

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Data Analytics and Modelling

By Associate Professor Tony Webber, Data Analytics and Modelling Unit Coordinator, The University of Sydney Business School MBA program

A61F7841It’s interesting teaching a subject like Data Analytics and Modelling (DA&M) within the University of Sydney Business School MBA program, knowing that 90% of students dread doing it, and most try and delay taking it. Although inevitably, like death and taxes, they must because it’s a compulsory unit.

This dread mostly comes about because there’s always a subset of students that don’t see themselves as analytical, and when they see maths or stats involved in a subject, they start hyperventilating. It’s really hard to change this mindset, because more often than not, it’s just part of someone’s DNA. So my job as an instructor is to try and make it as fun and accessible as possible, and to offer the best ‘after sales’ service imaginable, so that when the anxiety kicks in with an assignment or exam, I’m available to bring relief.

Often the dread and anxiety with a subject like mine is misplaced. While the name does look a bit daunting, much of DA&M and subjects of this ilk are about identifying the data you need, determining how you source the data, selecting the right approach to dissect the data, communication of the information you see in the data, and how you use the data to make the right decisions at work. None of these critical parts to DA&M involve mathematics and statistics.

A big part of the first two weeks of my course, for example, involves enlightening students on the best way to present a PowerPoint presentation to senior management, executive management or a board. Having presented to all three groups of people during my time as Chief Economist at Qantas, and after Qantas as an aviation and tourism consultant, I know that the key to a good presentation is understanding the layout of the room in which you are presenting, understanding the IT capabilities of the room, starting with the material in which you are most confident, ensuring the content is succinct, correct and useful, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so.

The course also looks out how you make conversation in an elevator with a senior executive about how the economy may be playing out over the next twelve months, and how that may affect the company.

So why is DA&M important and taking on increased importance? The GFC taught us a very big lesson – the world’s economic and financial markets are uncertain and volatile, and, as Willy Wonka once said to Charlie and Grandpa Joe, and possibly some Oompa Loompas, even the unimaginable can happen.

Data helps us to identify when these types of events are building up, and when they are likely to occur. Data also helps us to understand how to best react to these types of events. To do this, companies need to identify the phenomena that are external to the company and that affects the company. For example, macroeconomic phenomena like GDP, oil prices, exchange rates, interest rates and inflation. Companies need to source data for these phenomena and quantify how they affect the company. To react to these phenomena companies, need to understand how their own operational levers, such as price, advertising and investment, affect profits. Collection of internal data, combined with external data, can deepen this understanding.

Certainly, there is more than meets the eye with DA&M. And sometimes when you use just the eye, things will seem more complicated than they are. The ears and brain also help from time to time.

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