Interact

I have an hour to kill in town before meeting a friend, I set up camp in a posh lounge bar. I settle in a grey velvet sofa ready for a full hour of uninterrupted reading of my book. And go…. Two pages and I haven't retained anything at all. My mind is loud with corporate fluff mixed with  ideas and chatter. My day at the Young Leaders Forum (organised by the University of Redding Henley Business School) weighs on me in a way I didn't expect. Usually after these things I come out motivated with a huge to do list. Today I'm conflicted - and the discussions I am replaying in my head are all the more interesting.

So what did I just attend exactly?

I was contacted via LinkedIn to attend a Young Leaders Forum along with 35odd other selected delegates from every sector imaginable. Always up for a challenge and slightly flattered, I accepted. I rubbed shoulders with smart, outgoing likeminded people ranging from young successful CEOs and entrepreneurs, women working in traditionally male-dominated industries, Researchers in Ethics in business and so on. The day was structured around 3 keynotes followed by a discussions in groups.

We heard from Paul Forkan from Gandy's Flip Flops; a social enterprise based on two brothers’ experiences to create travel-inspired product that fund schooling projects in India and Sri Lanka.
Basically ‘use your journey to inspire what you do and be passionate’. 
The discussion that followed was a no-conflict, easy brainstorm on what values great leaders should have. I’ll spare you the cheesy, not-so interesting conclusions.

Then Jamal Edwards, founder of SB.tv spoke about his drive, motivations and energy and his world exploding after being approached by google (see his google chrome advert).
Basically ‘believe in yourself and what you do and get other people to do stuff you are not very good at. Oh, and be passionate.’ 
The discussion that followed got heated. We started talking about education, how (in)efficient it is and with representatives of both academia and people who founded alternative systems against traditional education, it became interesting. We concluded that skills are over-rated, leadership is about investing in people not knowledge and to allow space for individual drivers for leadership. The questions around the value of traditional education was left unanswered and hanging uncomfortably in an event which was partly trying to sell us MBA programmes.

Niamh Corbett spoke about The 30% Club; advocating for a minimum of 30% women represented on FTSE-100 boards. Her talk was about the breakdown of the retro boardroom and the value of creating space for ‘authentic leadership’.
Basically ‘diversity is good business. And be passionate.’
All I could think during her talk was ‘why not the 50% club?’ but that’s beside the point. We chatted about the importance of diversity (blah blah blah). I was struck by how ageist people seemed to be. We also chatted about creating an environment where emancipation, authenticity and passion can blossom – a much harder job than imposing quotas or – as Niamh put it - giving the illusion of diversity.

Overall, I found it interesting to notice how so many successful and inspiring people were working incredibly hard to change the world around them for the better with such different approaches. I realised how important their life stories had been in impacting their choice. From collecting degrees to break off from a family involved in crime to quitting jobs where someone was asked to be dishonest to build an ethical business through instigating change because of disillusion caused by an event, status quo or injustice.

I felt empowered by realising little by little why I had been approached to attend in the first place. I realised that a lot of the people there were inspiring and inspired, not all of them had ‘invented’ something but we all shared an indescribable passion, care and insatiable appetite for asking questions. In the end it wasn’t about succeeding as a leader, it was about the discussion around it.

I didn’t agree with everything that was said and I won’t be taking on an MBA at Henley Business School but I definitely learnt that:

  1. A leader is not someone who can do everyone’s tasks, it is someone who enables change and brings people along on the journey
  2. I should be the change I want to see and do that by being myself  

So thank you for the chats, discussion and the journey. NOW WHO’S WITH ME? ;)

As part of this event, Henley Business school is running a survey about what leadership looks like in the digital world. Click here if you want to share your opinion. 


Caroline is Marketing Manager at The Place

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