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The Things I Learned From the Leadership Connection

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by Shannon Barlow

10 months ago

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In 2016, I read a blog titled Are you in a role that’s past its use by date? It caught my attention and made me realise that although I wasn’t unhappy or wanted to leave the business, maybe I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my position either.  The blog ended with an invitation to join The Leadership Connection; described as a program for smart professional women looking for support to reignite their passion and fuel their career success. My work world at the time was entirely focused on building up a team and developing future leaders, so I thought maybe it was a good time to refocus on my own career and development.  If you follow me on social media, you will know that I’m a huge proponent of taking a sledgehammer to the glass ceiling and am extremely frustrated by the embarrassingly slow progress towards gender equity, however I was hesitant to join an all-female leadership program.  If it’s a man’s world, shouldn’t we have some males in the group to guide us through the terrain? But it was Jane not John who wrote the blog and ran the program, so I took the opportunity and went in with an open mind.  I’m glad I did as I have learnt a lot and would not have guessed how far my career would have progressed in less than a year!  Here are some of the key things I learned.

Know what you want

In the first workshop, it quickly became clear that despite our varied backgrounds and experiences, we were essentially saying the same thing “I don’t feel I’m getting what I deserve, but I’m not really sure what I want”. When I am interviewing candidates I often say “If I had a magic wand and could grant you your ideal role or company, what would it look like?”  It’s rare that a candidate will come back with a clear picture of what they are looking for, and this group of professional women was no exception.  We all knew we wanted something more or different, but had been too caught up in the ‘doing’ to take a step back and really think about “what is important to me?”. Once I was able to work out my strengths, the things I enjoyed and the things I wanted more of, I had a much clearer vision of where I wanted to take my career.

We actually are, better together.

“Two heads are better than one.”, “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Wise and true but if I’m honest, when it comes down to it, I’m probably more of a “if you want something done properly, do it yourself” kind of person!  Participating in the program reinforced the value of considering other perspectives and opening myself up to others’ ideas.  Whether it was about adapting my argument using DISC profiling to influence individuals in a board meeting, or adopting someone else’s creative solution, it has taught me to seek out opportunities to collaborate rather than have ‘go it alone’ as my default setting.

Don’t ask, don’t get.

After figuring out the direction I wanted to take my career and gathering those around me who could help get me there, the most important lesson I learned was to put my hand up for the opportunity.  Having a strategic role and being able to influence change in the organisation and drive improvements, were some of the key features of my vision.  The opportunity for me to open people2people’s first office in New Zealand, didn’t come along by chance (or just because I’m a Kiwi who has been away from home for too long!). It was due to positioning myself as someone with the capabilities and desire to take on a higher level of responsibilities.  I was actually trying to create a new role for myself within people2people. My MD Mark, then considered this from a different perspective, leading both of us to realise that I could get the things I wanted, in a much more exciting way than what I was actually pitching!

While going through the rather daunting task of unpacking my things from Australia, I came across my homework from that first workshop. One of the tasks was to write down a long term vision and it feels pretty good to be able to say I have achieved that goal in a way I would never have imagined at the time. This is what it said….

By July 2017 that I have secured a position that allows me to focus on my strengths – operations/strategy/team development

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