Know Thyself

By Myrophora Koureas, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

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I had the opportunity to work on a gender diversity project with Andy Almenara, Lilla Kelemen-Toroczkai, and Evan Zhang in the core unit of study, Managing People and Organisations (MPO, semester 2, 2016). My interest in virtual teams was piqued by our group composition. We were the ideal team in the context of MPO. It was apt that we were working on the ‘future of work’ issue of global mobility addressing a gender diversity issue. Our team was physically dispersed and diverse in terms of gender, culture, and experience. With each of us based in a different location meant connecting via online technologies. I had previously experienced the odd conference call in the workplace but had never worked remotely with a high performing team. Working in a virtual team increased our effectiveness because we made sure we prepared for meetings and kept track of follow-up actions. Previously I had not prepared so diligently for other face-to-face team project meetings. I utilised my knowledge of the higher education sector and together we conducted the MBA Future Leaders Survey and developed a set of recommendations for our client who was pleased with the outcome.

After submitting our final report, I wanted to explore further research potential for our work. I knew our work had business relevance and wanted to gauge the interest in an academic context. In late November I submitted an abstract to attend the 10th Annual International Conference on Global Studies: Business, Economic, Political, Social and Cultural Aspects in December 2016 in Greece. I made a proposal titled “Gender Diversity, Global Mobility, and the business bottom line: the case for change”. It was accepted.

The problem we addressed, in summary, is that it is accepted in industry that future leaders are required to have international experience in order to progress in organisations and careers. Currently, females are not given equal consideration and opportunity to gain this experience. The unintended impact is that female career progression is being limited which is shrinking the talent pool required to grow diverse leadership teams. Gender Diversity in organisations has a direct correlation with better decision-making and financial performance, as well as adverse implications on the leadership talent pool if not done well. This is generating an increased motivation for organisations, particularly multinationals, to appoint and promote more female executives.

Leading up to the conference I expended energy worrying about the presentation. I was extremely nervous. Arriving at the conference I realised that most of my time would be spent listening to the other presenters, most of whom were academics from institutions from across the globe.  I had become consumed by the prospect of speaking, forgetting that listening is an important skill. The highlight, aside from presenting, was question time. Other conference attendees, some leading academics in their fields, were interested in my team’s survey results and research. Speaking to these academics, I began to understand how research can begin to influence changes in industry.

Aside from meeting the conference attendees and being exposed to other research, it was also an opportunity to participate in the conference cultural program. The most transformative experience, for me, was the visit to the site of the Oracle of Delphi. In ancient times it was consulted on important decisions throughout the ancient classical world.  When visiting the Oracle of Delphi, at the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo people were greeted with the maxim “Know Thyself”.

Visitors to the Oracle were often seeking direction, guidance, and answers prior to making significant decisions. The inscription sought to remind them of the importance of self-awareness. You may remember seeing the maxim, “Know Thyself”, above the Oracle’s door in the Matrix trilogy – some truths stand the test of time.  This maxim, “Know Thyself” resonated with me on a personal and professional level, and in the context of my presentation.   With introspection, we can have a better understanding of our capabilities and areas for development. Having just completed the first core unit, Leadership, Practice and Development (LP&D, semester 1) this sounded all too familiar. With greater self-awareness, we achieve a deeper appreciation of our strength and a better understanding of our weakness and how we can develop. I knew all of this already but at the site of the Oracle of Delphi I felt empowered.  I realised that I have everything I need to find answers and creative business solutions, including an amazing network of people, like my MPO team and the dedicated academic staff teaching in the program.

Industry can learn from academia and modern thought leaders can learn from ancient civilizations. These relationships are not Mutually Exclusive (or Collectively Exhaustive, for those playing the management consulting home game). Instead, self-awareness is a dynamic process of introspection which brings a heightened sense of self. Just as Gender Diversity in organisations has directly been correlated to better decision-making and financial performance; self-awareness has been linked to leadership effectiveness. To “Know Thyself” is the real case for change.

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