Discovering the leader you are and the leader you want to be

Jennifer St George

Jennifer St George has been managing businesses and leading teams for more than thirty years. As her career progressed, Jennifer realised she had been coaching her staff using the approach modelled by her first mentor and knew she could do better. Determined to delve deeper into the expertise of others, Jennifer enrolled into the QUT Leadership through Coaching and Mentoring program (LCAM) and has never looked back.

She shares with us insights from her personal journey of organisational change and self-discovery.

A leadership course! Why was I so instantly drawn to QUT’s Leadership through Coaching and Mentoring (LCAM) program? I’d already been managing businesses and leading teams for thirty years.

I’ve always been a passionate believer in the power of mentoring having experienced some early career-enhancing coaching but as I ‘grew up’ in the business world, the mentoring dwindled.

Over the years, I’ve endeavoured to mentor my staff, but in reality I was using the approach modelled by my first mentor. I knew I could do better. I knew there’d be tools, techniques and research to help me become more effective. I knew it was time to delve deeply into the literature and expertise of others, to sharpen my coaching and mentoring tools. And, I knew I needed these skills now as I was taking on a new role as Chair of an arts not-for-profit organisation.

So many times during the course I was struck by moments of blinding insight. Some concepts so simple, yet so powerful and so immediately beneficial. It begs the question, why don’t we all know this stuff? Why didn’t I?

One of the magical aspects of the course is the instant applicability. I was very transparent with the Board and staff that I’d be using them as my coaching guinea pigs and they were up for some ‘serious play’.  It was satisfying to see some concepts have an impact quickly. I think Checkland’s Rich Picture exercise was the first time colouring pencils and felt-tipped pens had been utilised at a Board meeting. The exercise was fun, the insights truly powerful.

The course assessments were also designed to be conducted in the workplace. Applying some of the models at Board meetings led to some of the most in-depth conversations we’ve had during my tenure as Chair. The feedback from the team showed they felt something similar.

It was also satisfying to take the team on the learning journey with me. Concepts such as Dweck’s Growth mindset, Wheatley’s Above the Line thinking, Kline’s Thinking Environment, Abbott’s Polarity Map, we applied to issues as a team.  Mindfulness has taken a place in our organisation that I never believed possible (I was a skeptic). The course encouraged us to take the time to consider the big, broad questions facing the organisation and face some of the ‘undiscussables’. We have launched a number of ‘safe to fail experiments’ as advocated by Garvey Berger.

Was it all sunshine and skipping through the impactful insights? No, I have some healthy skeptics in my organisation, who challenged some approaches and research. Some ideas are just never going to take, yet by using these ‘leadership through coaching’ tools and techniques, the results began to show. But, not without effort. Constant, dedicated effort.

I finished the course last year, but my brain is still bubbling around many of the learnings and how to make the most of them, particularly around strategy. The study in this area was fascinating. Looking at emergent strategy and deliberate strategy and delving into why some traditional ways of ‘doing strategy’ fail. Changes in tackling strategy development takes time and this process may be ever evolving.

Only last week I found myself diving back into the course material. Challenging myself to wring out every possible drop of wisdom. This was a journey of organisational change and self-discovery. You discover the leader you are and the leader you want to be. The challenge is then to make it happen, and…there just happens to be a LCAM concept to help with that.

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    Evelyne Meier

    Thank you Jennifer for sharing your learning journey.

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