So much of Business School is about leadership. Interrogating the theory in class, exploring it in practice and ultimately, learning what kind of leader you want to be after LBS.
We asked four of 2020’s Incubator class (Sid Singh (India Club), Brian Selvarajah (Out In Business), Fadhil Aziz (Impact Consulting), and Cori Boyce (Senior Careers Office for SA, Co-Chair for Mental Health Awareness Week)) to tell us what they’ve learnt about effective leadership, about themselves, and what the highs and lows of elected Club positions taught them.
There are lots of reasons to take on the sizeable task of leading a Club of LBS – here, Sid, Brian, Fadhil and Cori discuss a few of those reasons, and share how the experience has shaped them as leaders.
Effective leadership requires juggling – you can’t do everything!
If you’re studying at LBS, the chances are, you know something about being busy. However, being an inspiring, engaged leader isn’t a task you can check off your to-do list along with every other demand on your time, as our Incubator participants know; ‘Running a large club is a significant time commitment and the experience can be more hands-on than you initially envision. The end-results correlate strongly to the input energy and effort,’ Sid Singh explains. ‘The biggest challenge has been juggling priorities. We’re all overachievers as presidents. However there just isn’t enough time in our schedule’, agrees Brian Selvarajah, ‘it was hard accepting that we can’t do everything the best all the time. However it’s also good to understand that we need to have a focus and if we make our mark on just one big thing, that’s great!’. For Cori, that realization – that you can’t be all things to all people, and be an effective leader – was an important lesson; ‘[Before the Incubator], my biggest misconception was that the best leaders are always on top of their game at all times and no one sees them falter. The best leaders know when to lean on the rest of their team and own any mistakes they make along the way.’
The people you meet along the way can be your best asset…
‘A real highlight [of the Incubator] for me has been the learnings I get from my peers. Just hearing about the different issues everyone faced and how they might solve them differently was really valuable,’ explains Fadhil. This is a lesson that effective teams learn early – that no leader is an island. Your network can help you solve problems, and there is power in being part of a community; ‘the Incubator really made me realize I can tap into my peers much more than I was previously doing. We don’t need to lead in silos,’ says Cori, ‘we learned to ask the right questions to get each other to think more creatively about a problem.’ It’s a lesson to be taken on in the participants’ careers post-LBS, as Sid identifies; ‘the Incubator works best when you engage with your peers regularly. Taking the time to reflect and dissect issues you may be facing with other leaders in similar situations will help you make better decisions.’
…but it’s important to learn how to get the best from them
Brian’s experience as a Club President helped him develop strategies to keep his team engaged, an especially vital aspect of leadership when your team are working on a voluntary basis. ‘My biggest takeaway was learning how to create, grow and sustain a club culture. I know that I won’t be at the top of an organization when I go back to work, however it was great to try out some theories on how to best go about motivating people.’ In fact, engaging volunteers with so many other things to do was challenging for Cori too; ‘Everyone’s priorities are different at different times and they don’t often line up with what you need as a leader at that moment. Motivating volunteers is a completely different ballgame than motivating paid employees, but the positives are that it is truly a rewarding experience.’ Sid took the opportunity of Club leadership to explore ways of fostering collaboration in his team too; ‘At LBS, we work in incredibly diverse teams with unique viewpoints. As a leader, taking the time to get to know colleagues and making them feel empowered to voice their thoughts honestly is important.’
Don’t dismiss the ‘fluffy’ side of leadership
The discourse of business is often concise, data-laden, dispassionate – so it’s understandable for leaders to be preoccupied with the tangible side, of budgets and margins and productivity. But the students of the Leadership Incubator are encouraged to explore what Fadhil affectionately terms ‘the fluffy stuff’, and they’ve embraced its impact on their leadership style; ‘I really underestimated the importance and effectiveness of both listening and asking the right questions in helping your team. And of course, I also didn’t know how hard it was to do both consistently!’ he says. Sid’s approach changed over the course of his experience too; ‘My biggest misconception was that leadership is centered primarily on effective delegation. Now, I think of it as more of an iterative process, one that needs continuous reflection to yield returns.’ Brian found the support of his dedicated Leadership coach to be instrumental in that reflection; ‘I understand better my shortcomings and have found tools to better manage leading a team under stress and with competing priorities. My touch-bases with my leadership coach further provided incremental support that made change actionable.’ But don’t think the ‘fluffy stuff’ requires less energy, Cori cautions; ‘Show up and be present! It’s an experience that you get out of it what you put into it. When you’re in the sessions – be present. Turn off the phone and the email and be ready and willing to listen and learn from one another.’ In fact, engaging with the seemingly ‘soft’ side of leadership through dedicated time with a leadership coach was highlighted by all four Incubatees as beneficial; ‘coaching provided me with the opportunity to reflect on newly applied approaches,’ considers Fadhil; ‘it certainly changed the way I think about the solutions in different leadership issues.’
Leadership gives you an opportunity to continue (or create) a legacy that you’re proud of
It’s clear that leadership roles come with challenges, but what Sid, Brian, Fadhil and Cori were keen to emphasise was that they felt part of something bigger; a tradition that formed an important part of their own experience as students at LBS, as well as those of others before them. In fact, for many, this formed the initial attraction to the position; ‘I wanted to carry on a tradition and knew that I had the time and motivation to steer the OIB ship,’ says Brian, ‘I cared for the club and really wanted to move it forward.’ Sid agrees, ‘Leading the India Club was an important part of my MBA journey. It was a chance to enact a real-life turnaround. I wanted to make a difference and found the complexity and possibilities of the situation very exciting. Driving initiatives that add value to and improve the LBS student experience was very gratifying.’ Fadhil felt similarly when he considered the role, ‘I wanted contribute and drive the success of the club that I’m passionate about.’ And now that her Club role is approaching its end at LBS, Cori reflects on her opportunity; ‘Having conversations with my team about the events that we’ve put on and the problems that we have solved makes me proud to have been able to make an impact on this community, even in just a small way.’
Good luck to all our Club leaders for the next step in their careers.