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