A while ago, I wrote my first blog about my Henley EMBA journey. It was when I finished Stage One (The Henley Executive CBL – Certificate of Business Leadership). I have now started the 3-rd and last stage of my Henley journey, with an amazing personal leadership development tour to South Africa (Lead with Humanity). Who would have thought that it was possible to learn so much about leadership, how I react in uncertain and stressful situations, the way I interact with others, and last but not least, about my personal strengths, and in only 10 days too? However, again, it was 10 days in the bush of South Africa, in a very challenging environment.
It feels like I have been on a long, involuntary journey to the Moon and back. We have been told that the content of the mission is classified. What happened in Africa, stays in Africa. We are not allowed to write about it. But I am allowed to share my own personal thoughts and reflections, and what I learnt, which this blog post is about.
After returning home, I needed some post-flight isolation which helped me back to my ordinary life again, back to ‘business as usual’. Both myself and the world around me seem changed and trying to digest all these experiences, and how I feel this ‘change’, is very difficult to explain to people who were not a part of the journey, but the effect of the journey seems to be visible to almost everyone else around me.
How to be in ’Flow’ Instead of Control
Before our departure, I was very frustrated with the fact that I did not know what was going to happen or what we were going to do. However, as the day of departure approached, I realised that these were the rules of the game and wouldn’t change. This was all completely out of my hands. I became more curious and excited about all the new experiences which were awaiting me ‘down there’. My focus changed to trust and connection. I began to enjoy the journey and became able to learn, ‘absorb’ things better and to search for the ‘real’, authentic Mirella.
During our journey to Africa, we were introduced to many interesting leadership theories, and during those sessions, I thought a lot about my favourite leadership book,‘Good Business: Leadership, Flow and The Making of Meaning’ by M. Csikszentmihalyi. I received the book at a very challenging time in my life, and I used it to find the right balance in my leadership style. A central part of the book is about being in balance, being “in flow”, where passion takes over and time stands still. Earlier in my career as a leader, with inspirations from the book, I understood that leadership is more than just achieving goals. So I decided to strive to focus on people’s inner motivation and help my teams to grow and together achieve the goals set up for them.
But did I fully understand the message about how to achieve this form of flow? During my African voyage, I discovered new insights I had not seen before and I realised that when the feeling of control is established, you are out of “the flow”. Too much controlcan stop your further development.
From Unconscious Behaviour to Useful Competencies and Strengths
Another clear benefit from not knowing what to expect seems to be that you become aware of competencies you either didn’t know you had, or the unconscious becomes conscious for you. Conscious competencies become your strengths because you can use them and develop on them.
The challenges and the environment in South Africa were so different and so far away from everyone’s comfort zones, that the only available option was to be yourself. There was no time for check-lists and planning. You were just in the middle of the battle. It was at this stage, I found out how I react to uncertain and unexpected situations, and it became clear to me that I could stay calm and focus on the fight ahead, as well as to have a plan on how to move forward and that my resilience is very high. Extremely useful learning and observations for my future leadership.
I have also learned that constant and honest feedback during the time of “battle” and checking that you have everybody on-board, makes an enormous difference to whether you succeed with your ‘mission’. I feel that I have also learned some new languages: the language of feelings and the language of the soul. Critical learning for myself, and for many others in leadership roles.