The road to effective leadership

By Emily Hensby, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

EmilyHensby_ThumbnailWhen friends and colleagues ask me why I am undertaking an MBA at the University of Sydney Business School, I respond with humble yet lofty aspirational statements like, “I want to grow and develop” and “I want to really push myself”. But here’s the thing. There is nothing fun about that moment when you realise that you can take the growth road or the old road. The moment when you realise that you can change, and that change is up to you. For me, these were some of the most humbling moments in the epic journey that is Mike Jenner’s Leadership Practice and Development, the foundational course of the University of Sydney MBA.

The course itself is gives you the essential tools you will need to become an effective leader. And let’s be clear – leadership here is not about taking charge or being the first or loudest. It’s about getting things done through other people – influencing, motivating and enabling others in way that preserves respect for you and others, and being someone that others want to be around!

To learn about influencing, motivating and enabling others, it’s essential that we come to understand how we ‘land’ for other people. What is it like for others to be around me? Beyond learning and practising tools like active listening, giving and receiving feedback, conflict resolution and building teams, the course also commands a heavy dose of self-reflection.

I’m sure a lot of my classmates would agree, this can range from being slightly uncomfortable to downright confronting. Our class leader and learning facilitator, Mike Jenner, is the biggest advocate of a ‘feedback rich environment’ I’ve ever witnessed, and at the end of the course, I can now understand why. There is no growth without a feedback loop. The two are inextricably linked.

There were parts of my own behaviour that I was oblivious too. There were ways I was (and still am) landing for other people which I wasn’t at all aware of. The ONLY way this came to light for me was through getting feedback from other people – and the gracious nature of others to care about me enough to be honest with me.

And there comes the point of choice. My team members, colleagues and associates had taken the step of telling me areas of my style that could be more effective. They’d opened up a door to seeing myself in a way that I hadn’t. Did I enjoy that moment? No, I didn’t. Did I sit with it for a while and feel a little deflated that the ways in which I had thought I was helping people most wasn’t landing as effectively as it could? Sure did! Did I then decide that I’d like to be the most effective person I can be for those around me, knowing to do that would take change, action, time and work? Absolutely.

The biggest insight of all I got from the Leadership Practice and Development unit is that for me to be the most effective leader I can be, I need to let go of the notion of leadership as controlling things and to see leadership as a practice of facilitating things. My team member is facing a challenge – I can actively listen instead of trying to solve their problem for them and robbing them of the opportunity to do so. I’ve got a conflict of needs with my colleague – How can I facilitate a win-win outcome? I’ve got a team member not meeting expectations – How can I facilitate them to solve the problem of how they are going to meet the expectation?

Ironically, as I continue to embed the best practice skills from Leadership Practice & Development through consistent practice and feedback loops over time, I will be using less energy to get things done than I ever have. I’ve read it and heard it a thousand times before – and now I’m really coming to understand it – that committing to empowering and enabling others around me to be the best they can be, is perhaps the best decision I can ever make for my future success as a leader.

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