Developing leadership 2022

Lego model of my leadership practice

I’ve started teaching my module on developing leadership and reflective practice again. It some ways it feels like a real luxury to be able to keep on teaching in my new role and in others an absolute necessity. When I was thinking about applying for a senior leadership position, I was determined not to be drawn away from the experiences and connections that had led to be able to consider applying for such a role. I really want to do more to connect with the lived experiences of our students and staff in ways I haven’t been able to thus far. Teaching on my module goes some way to doing this, although the students who take the MA in Academic Practice are also staff so have a difference experience from others, but a valid one nevertheless. I always learn so much from the participants on this module as well as reminding myself how to use various educational technologies, which is always a humbling experience!

After feedback from participants we have continued to teach the modules online this year. I feel mixed about this if I am honest. Pre-pandemic we used to teach all modules as full days and although this was great in terms of being able to spend a lot of time on a subject with the participants, it was often a challenge for staff to take whole days out at a time. In online mode, we run the sessions at two timeslots in a day and this has proved popular with participants. I am not sure we will ever go back to running full days face-to-face, but may well come up with a more blended mode of delivery. For my module, I am hoping to do at least two of the six days in person. I was planning to do the second day, which is at the British Museum, in person in February, but have now moved this to the last day as there are still limits on groups at the Museum and it was getting too complicated. Running it at the end though should be a really good finish to the module and enables me to experiment with the activity again.

I always start the module with an enquiry into our perceptions of leaderships which centres around a quiz looking at statistics on key “leadership” roles and organisations by gender and race. This is where a few years ago I learnt the almost unbelievable statistic that there were only 17 black female professors in UK universities. Whilst the situation may have improved its still pretty shocking the paucity of representation and lack of diversity in government, universities, and the healthcare sector. We discuss what this means in terms of leadership role models and challenge our own ideas of leaders. This year, after a discussion with the participants about followership, I also explored the idea of influencers and unexpected leaders. Is someone who has millions of followers on TikTok or Instagram any more or less of a leader than the Prime Minister? Or what about almost “unexpected” leaders such as Marcus Rashford or Malala Yousafzai? What does their example of leadership tell us about our perceptions of leaders?

One of the other things we cover on the first day is the imposter syndrome. Whilst my thinking on this has evolved over time, especially after reading articles like this one, its something else that I like to cover on the first day of the leadership module after discussions with past participants who said they felt really uncomfortable about seeing themselves as leaders. By discussing the concept of the imposter syndrome, we do get to have conversations about vulnerability and our discomfort in different situations. This helps build trust and also breaks down some of the barriers we have to considering ourselves leaders.

For many years, I used to feel anxious about leading this module as I thought it implied in some way that I saw myself as a perfectly formed leader (I don’t) or as someone who was very confident as a leader (I’m not) or, even worse, as someone who was “sorted” as a leader (definitely not!). I used to worry that people would cite instances of my leadership as a way of demonstrating that I was not fit to run this module. All of this was unhelpful and not true. So now I am much more open about my own leadership journey, that I am still learning, every day, that my leadership practice is evolving and own my vulnerability as a leader (cue Brene Brown). I feel much more that I am sharing the journey of my participants as we move through the module together and explore our leadership practice in safe and open way. This, I hope, will make us all better and more reflective leaders.

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