One of my favourite public speaking engagements so far this year was a seminar I gave to doctoral students in our Faculty who were interested in learning more about the leadership aspects involved in an academic career. During a doctorate students are naturally immersed in their own research projects where their personal level of effort is a key driver for their own success. In my talk, I tried to outline that developing a successful academic career, especially at a senior level, is much about enabling the success of others.
So what does leadership look like? That may not be a question many of the audience had thought about. Some people associate leadership with outgoing, charismatic personality types. I assured the students that such a personality type was definitely not a requirement! (and is not me). I reminded the quieter members of the audience that introverts make great leaders.
Normally my lecture theatre presentations to students are laden with mathematics and Greek symbols. However this presentation was "mathematics- free" and instead focused on people and values. My slides walked people through our Department lobby with concrete examples of how things in the lobby reflect the values I hold, e.g.
- a honesty box where I sell fruit as snacks (which I fund personally) - trust matters
- an honours board - to celebrate staff and student success
- photos of the Department's founders - because we value our heritage
- a flier supporting the University's "zero tolerance" for discrimination of any kind
My focus on people included advice to aspiring leaders that they should develop their skills to:
- build and grow relationships with a range of stakeholders
- find ways to be comfortable when things get uncomfortable
- be a change agent
- be inquisitive - ask why
- appreciate and value the support of others (like I did below!)
I enjoyed the questions students asked after my presentation. One perceptive one was "How do you protect yourself when dealing with other people in stressful situations?" Another insightful one asked how I manage conflicts of interest since I interact with such a wide range of people and organisations. Questions like that meant I could see "cogs turning" in the audience and am optimistic that the University will produce doctoral graduates who embrace leadership as part of their future.