Becoming a Leader: 2 months in

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Returning hot off the Eurostar from the Capgemini University at Les Fontaines, the Future Leaders Class of 2018 have just completed a week of intense leadership learning, and in this blog I will share some of the insights that I gained, emotions that I felt, and lessons that I learnt.

What is it like at Les Fontaines?

First, it’s worth dedicating a bit of time to describe the environment at Les Fontaines, because I strongly believe that this is a huge factor in the success of all the training programmes that are run there.

As soon as you pull up to the entrance, you can’t help but admire the beauty and opulence of the campus. Set in the middle of a forest in Chantilly is the original castle building with its impressive architecture, alongside which now sits a modern amphitheatre of classrooms and auditoriums. Then, throughout the campus, you will find the villas (our bedrooms), nature trails, gym, tennis courts and a lake (though let’s not mention the mosquitoes!). For myself, and I’m sure many others, this alone filled me with an immense sense of gratitude. It was clear from this that Capgemini wanted this to be a unique and special learning experience, and having been fortunate enough to be there, I was determined to play out my gratitude and absolutely put my all into the week.

In terms of “how it works” at Les Fontaines, you can imagine it as a conference centre or learning facility and some! There are multiple classrooms with one notable thing missing – tech gadgets! Aside from the odd presentation screen and silent disco headset (yes!) most of the learning programmes take it back to basics, using pens and paper, and even these are limited in their use. The focus of the flp course was placed on you using your brain, and communicating and working with others – because that, after all, is what we do most at work.

This is all supported by a fantastic team of facilitators who work incredibly hard to get the best out of you in the classroom, make things run seamlessly behind the scenes, and capture the essence of the day in beautiful artistic illustrations.

So what did we do on the Future Leaders Programme?

Oh I really wish I could answer that question! But as I mentioned in my first blog, I have to be careful not to share too much and risk spoiling it for future classes. So I will share what I can…

As you can imagine of a Leadership programme, we were taken through various exercises to help us understand ourselves better, our leadership style including strengths and weaknesses, what this means for working with others, and practice how to adapt.

A big emphasis was therefore placed on you as an individual being honest – with yourself and those around you – being willing to be vulnerable, to admit the areas that you struggle with, but also be proud and bold about the areas you excel with. This might sound easy but – be honest with yourself right now – how easy would you find it to go up to a new Capgemini colleague and say “I really struggle with this at work” or “I’m awesome at this!”. Well, this is one of the things that we learnt to do over the course of the week and through the various leadership exercises.

In order for us to do this – to learn about ourselves and to grow – an even bigger emphasis was placed on the group dynamic and working together. At the start of the week we designed a group declaration of things that we would do to support each other. Things such as respecting one another, not judging each other, and truly listening to each other. Again, such simple things, but that are quite often hard to come by in the world we live in.

So what did this mean? Well, I certainly know that in aspects of my work life I am portraying a version of a leader that I think people want to see. As I discovered on the programme, this isn’t wholly uncommon. We sometimes mimic or mirror the people around us, acquire traits from previous leaders, and – like a chameleon – will adjust our style depending on the audience. This might sound logical, but it can also be hugely confusing – not only to the people who see you (and all your chameleon outfits) at work, but also for yourself. Which leader are you truly? Knowing that I wasn’t going to be judged meant that I felt liberated to truly try out the leader that I wanted to be, but that had perhaps been hiding for fear of “being wrong”.

So what did I learn about myself?

I learnt many things about myself in just one week, and that learning came with its fair share of emotion, so I have chosen just a few things to mention.

A major learning for me was realising that my leadership style can often be an “all or nothing” type affair. I always knew that I was all or nothing in my personal life (either always in the gym, or always on the sofa, eating a salad, or an entire packet of biscuits…) but I hadn’t appreciated that I was like this at work, and I hadn’t appreciated the impact this was having on the people that I lead.

My “all or nothing” stretches from someone who is democratic and empathetic, but too nice and too apologetic on the one hand, to someone who is organised and action-focused, but too bossy and inflexible on the other hand. I learnt that I tend to switch to the extremes when I am in “fight or flight” mode when I might be stressed. Sure enough, that happened during our week at Les Fontaines, and I was mortified and upset to realise the impact it had on those around me. Don’t get me wrong, not all lessons were as difficult, I also learnt what people value about me – that I am honest and approachable – and that I should do more of that at work.

What is important here is that I wouldn’t have learnt all of this if it were not for our pact of being honest with each other and not judging each other, and I am hugely grateful to the rest of the class for holding up their end of the deal!

Later in the week we were also joined by our coaches from Maynard Leigh (see blog post #2). Prior to the week in Les Fontaines, we had worked with our coaches to choose an area of leadership that we wanted to work on, for which I had chosen Inspiration.

Not only do I find Inspiration a hard word to nail down, but I find it even harder to bring into the workplace. I had always seen inspiration as something highly personal – something that inspires me, might not inspire you, so who am I to try and inspire you?

Boy was I proven wrong. I heard so many people talk about the vast array of things that inspire them – from animal rights, to family members, to art, and to nature. I also received some good advice, to try and find inspiration in small things, rather than treating it as a grandiose milestone. One thing that all these had in common was that they spoke with passion.

For my inspiration, I chose to talk about art, and in particular, knitting. Knitting inspires me for various reasons: I love to be creative and have a sense of achievement from making something; it was my grandma who taught me to knit, and this gives me a wonderful connection to her, and my auntie teaches creative art as therapy, and I have witnessed the remarkable impact it can have for coping with stress, anxiety, and other mental and physical health problems.

I must have spoken with a degree of passion, because I somehow managed to inspire 4 men to knit a friendship bracelet!

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