Through the lockdown period, people did all kinds of things to keep themselves busy and active. From knitting to yoga, people learnt new skills and found some new joy and learning in the strange situation we were all in. Our founder Emma Serlin chose to study leadership as her lockdown learning and took an Executive Leadership course at Oxford University Saïd Business School.
Read on to hear Emma's honest thoughts about what she learnt about her own ability as a leader, what she learnt about leadership from the perspective of one of the world's most prestigious global institutions.
Why did you decide to specialise your learning in leadership and why do you think leadership is important in business?
Emma: Well there are a few reasons really. Firstly I wanted to improve my own leadership. I think one of the things about having a growth mindset for the company is that not only are we focused on growth for our clients but for ourselves as well. I always want to improve and I know that there is always room for growth.
'We're a growing company; I want to be the best me that I can be to lead my business.'
Secondly, we often work with C-suite executives and all the tools that I gain feed into our courses. I'm motivated to find the best learning out there so we can offer more for our clients. Finally, I had been looking at it for about six months and wanted to make sure I got something out of the enforced lockdown!
How will your learnings affect the day to day workings of LSW? What sort of changes will you implement based on what you have learnt?
Emma: One of the aspects of the course is the weekly graded assignments, asking you questions about your own leadership within the context of that learning. I became very aware of my strengths as a leader and of the areas where I'm not so strong - and through seeing what needed work I started to put things into place to improve.
It led me to bring in more mentorship, coaching support, and hire a strategic consultant to give us a fresh perspective on what we're doing really well and where there is room for improvement.
In terms of what we will implement specifically, we have a more structured plan for moving forward into 2020, and crucially better communication on all of the little details of the company within the team. I'm good at talking about the big visions and our aspirations as a company but making sure everyone knows all of the details has probably not been our forte! Now, we've introduced an internal newsletter, so that everyone including our wonderful coaches, know whats going on. And there is always a lot going on!
What do you think are the biggest challenges of leadership and do you feel differently about these challenges after completing the course at Oxford Saïd Business School?
Emma: I think a great leader has all kinds of different abilities - some of which seem like they are in conflict with each other. For example, you need to be able to create an environment where people feel really secure, know what their jobs are, know what the expectations are and have a very clear idea of the company goals, values, vision, mission, purpose. At the same time, you need to be responsive and nimble, able to change direction or adapt to new situations. Coronavirus is a really good example. If a leader is so set in their ways and attached to a plan then they are going to struggle to shift and adapt as is needed.
'You also need to be nimble, flexible and adaptable and be able to change your leadership style to fit different people.'
So there's challenges of leadership because no one is going to be all of those aspects of a personality - the aim is to be able to identify the areas where you are strong and create positive structures around that. Take me, I realised through doing the course, I am the classic entrepreneur type, loads of ideas, energy, enthusiasm and vision but less strong on details and implementation. I'll have new ideas all the time, and while for me that makes things fun, I began to understand that for a lot of people, it makes things feel very uncertain, like they are not sure of what the new priority will be tomorrow. The course helped me to see the importance of creating firm ground beneath everyone's feet, and also working with my team and their range of talents to make sure we do this.
I think self awareness is key - it certainly has been for me. Learning my strengths, understanding my weaknesses, and then adjusting accordingly.
'I got to know my own strengths and weaknesses and through that learn how important it is for other people who are different from me to have their needs met as well'
Due to Covid19 and the changes to working life, how have you adjusted your leadership techniques to make sure communication within your team is happening effectively - and what are the main qualities of a good leader?
Emma: Personally, I'm good when there's a challenge - give me a problem and I start solving! So it's been amazing for us as a team because we have really come together and I think everyone has felt very relieved to be part of a company that is so positive and active.
Realising that people were going to be struggling, I wanted to make sure that they felt supported, so created a space for people to say how they are in weekly, and now fortnightly meetings. This has really brought us together as a team and is one of our happy achievements of the last challenging few months.
Is effective leadership styles something that comes naturally or do you feel after attending this course good leadership and management skills is something anyone can learn?
Emma: In the first instance the motivation to lead has to be there, if someone wants to be a leader, and is prepared to work on themselves then, yes, everyone can learn this. Different personalities and different characters will be different kinds of leaders, and there is no right or wrong, but there are traits that work well.
I think the two of the most important elements for a good leader are having a growth mindset and being led by values. For me, being growth mindset means being unashamedly self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and where there is room to grow as a leader.
'If people aren't value-led then where's the kindness? Kindness is such an important part of modern day leadership.'
Values are also really important because having and expressing your values as a leader and as an organisation helps give people something to buy into. It means they can have skin in the game, and supports loyalty, commitment and helps generate a sense of purpose for everyone involved.
Drawing ideas from what you already know and learnt on the course, what advice would you give to someone who is perhaps struggling with leadership?
Emma: I would say listening and empowering the people around you is really important - and tuning into where they are at in their wellbeing, mental health and motivation, helps make people feel respected and valued.
The big thing is to know your own value. Understand what you bring to the table and have confidence in doing that. But make sure you give space to enrich and nurture the value of the people around you too. And then of course, acknowledge them.