In an effort to enhance my employability after leaving university this week I decided to attend a leadership course. I figured it would be a great opportunity to get some face time with leaders from industry and to network. The course was put on by Common Purpose a multinational group that looks at Leadership around the world and the affects on the wider communities. They run a number of leadership courses and the one I attended was for disabled students and sponsored by Santander.
Arriving at the hotel with Ascot I was presented with my first challenge. We had forgotten to bring his food, we had packed the food just not put it in the car. If Ascot ate Pedigree Chum this would have been an easy problem to solve, but he is a delicate sole and eats a very specific food. So specific that it isn’t even for Labradors – No, Ascot believes himself to be a German Shepherd. There is usually a 5 day lead time on ordering his food and it is rarely stocked in shops. So after a quick google we headed to Pets At Home and bought the closest thing we could find. For a week Ascot would have to accept the fact he was a Labrador and forego his special German Shepherd food.
The first evening was full of the usual awkwardness. None of us knew each other and with around 40 people on the course the challenge was on to quickly mingle and find people to talk too. As a stroke of luck I sat down for dinner and happened to be sat down next to the person who would be in my working group for 2 days. So we quickly chatted and began to get to know each other.
The first day was a mix of group work and talks from leaders from the surrounding areas. The first challenge of the day was to present an object and talk about what it said of you to the group. I took along my NYC 2012 marathon medal. This is a great medal as the race was never run and it reminds me of an unexpected adventure that my guide runner and I embarked on.
The first talk of the day was on questioning. Studying psychology I had been fortunate enough to have read around the topic. While the presented used different terminology who was talking about question framing. He went on to demonstrate how framing (constraining in his words) would shape an individuals response. I am a huge fan of Kahneman and Tversky whose early work on framing and anchoring is incredibly enlightening. Reading up on any of their early work would be a great supplement to this talk and really bring to the front the power of framing. I personally have a great interest in anchoring and especially irrelevant anchoring and its outcomes on decision making. So this talk definitely resonated with me and just made me think of how everything he spoke about worked on a number of different levels with the research that backed it up. Another great supplement to this talk would have been Influence by Robert and Cialdini. While this book focuses on influence and persuasion it can readily apply to questioning.
We then undertook a number of group challenges, including one on diversity. These were a great opportunity to be presented with opinions in views that greatly differed from your own and how as an individual and a group you would deal with that. Other challenges of the day involved using play doh and a Mr Potato head to represent the qualities of a leader.
A second talk of the day was incredibly interesting. It was a frank and honest portrayal of an individuals journey to become a leader. Interestingly once he became a leader he spoke about encouraging others to grow and develop. The ideas he spoke of were similar to those of Daniel Pink in his book Drive. Especially the elements on autonomy of his staff and intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Again the terminology different by the presented but definitely fell in line with Pink’s ideas.
The final piece of group work we did was to highlight our strengths and weaknesses and set ourselves a challenge for the following day. As we went around the group everyone highlighted a challenge for the following day and mine was to work on approaching people. While I feel confident to give a speech because I have no idea where people actually are the initial approach can be quite difficult.
After a few group challenges we had the first talk of the day. This talk I believe was supposed to be about influence. However I struggled to relate to this particular speaker. I felt his point of influence became a little muddled and lost within his story. This may have been due to the fact I did not relate to the sector he was from. I took as much as I could from the speech but found it a little lacking on influence. A cursory read of the influence book above would of given a far greater overview of influence. However what it did do and was perhaps the entire point was to introduce us to the idea of influence, preparing us for the afternoons challenge.
The challenge for the afternoon would be to meet with a company, be presented with a challenge they were currently facing and offer a new view or insight. This seemed incredibly exciting and was the challenge I was most looking forward to. We were presented with our brief that identified two clear challenges, we quickly divided ourselves into two groups and began to make notes of possible questions. This quickly fell apart on arrival as we were divided into exactly the opposite groups we had decided on beforehand!
In hindsight this was for the best. The entire point of the course was to challenge ourselves. So before arriving we had chosen the task we were most comfortable with, then presented with the task we were least comfortable with.
In the time we had been allotted we had to come up with some concepts, present them and answer questions. Our group seemed to come up with some unique ideas and even highlighted some emerging technologies that the company had not heard of. I enjoy pitching ideas so this challenge for me was incredibly enjoyable.
The final day was a slog. Not due to the amount of work we had to do but more related to the time spent in Revolutions the previous night consuming copious amounts of vodka. However our group knuckled down and began the days challenges.
One of the most interesting was the opportunity in small groups to ask questions of local leaders. For me the most interesting was the CEO of a tech startup. I love technology and I also enjoy the idea of the elastic demands of entrepreneurs in the early days of a tech startup. Under a large amount of questioning the CEO reiterated Daniel Pink’s work in To Sell is Human. I find the mindset of serial entrepreneurs interesting, that constant cycle of intense drive with a clear exit strategy and the next idea. I found this particular individual fascinating.
In the afternoon there were a couple of notable group tasks. Soap boxing which involved standing up and sharing your vision with the group. The group would then vote with their feet and stand next to whosoever pitch was the most persuasive or compelling. There were some great ideas put across but I voted on emotion. Any pitch that can make you smile and evoke an emotion for me is the winner. If you can make someone else feel your passion your are half way there!
The second interesting challenge was “Who I am” which was a 10 minute task in order to tell the story of who you were to one listened and one observer. The person I had told my story too seemed a little shocked, I had only mentioned my past achievements to people who asked or directly asked about things like the TV commercials. It was a great chance to cram my story into 10 minutes but I did feel like I was cheating a little when at the end it was commented that I delivered it incredibly well and covered the important points. So I felt obliged to reveal that I have told that story many times in one guise or another!
The final task of the day was to present another individual from your group with their graduation certificate. This was assigned at random and I was fortunate enough to be presented my certificate to someone who I had become close to through the course.
The course was an incredible experience. The opportunity to spend time with other disabled people and hear their unique stories was fantastic. Like the film festival a few weeks back I came away inspired. Our own achievements simply become the things we do to move forward and we rarely identify how special they are. Therefore I always find the stories of others more inspiring and my particular favourite happened while we were knocking back the vodka on the night out. I was talking to someone who had taught themselves to read and write english when they came to this country a few years ago. An impressive task in itself but then when they expanded and described how they learnt I was blown away.
Hearing other peoples stories can often provide us strength and help us push forward in our own lives so I will definitely draw on that story in the future.
One of the greatest things to take away is the bonds that were created while on the course, fore it is those bonds and the networks created that will no doubt lead to opportunities in the future.