Great leadership also means taking time out to reflect and reframe one’s identity, says Tracey Camilleri, Programme Director of the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme.
There’s a lot of guff spoken about leadership – what it is and what it isn’t. Of course, you know great leadership when you see it, but most stellar leadership goes on unsung behind the scenes: morally imaginative, hard grafting, unseen.
We are interested in both sorts on the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme (OSLP). We are interested too that neither kind of leader should become an endangered species in an anti-elitist period of history. Talented young men and women should not self-select out of the leadership track because they don’t like what they see when they look up. At pivotal moments, we need people who act beyond self-interest, who understand that simple actions can have complex ramifications and who have the ability to step into the shoes of the other.
Talented young men and women should not self-select out of the leadership track because they don’t like what they see when they look up
Great leadership is an art. It takes imagination. On the OSLP, we draw widely from the humanities, working with conductors, theatre directors, historians, writers and philosophers, as well as world-class academics and practitioners. Our programme isn’t a traditional ‘how to’ course; it is more of a learning experience designed specifically for leaders. The programme is not the programme; the leaders are the programme.
Year on year, we feel lucky to have such interesting people come through our door. We deliberately give them permission to falter, to remember the thrill of learning, to reboot and reconnect with what on earth they are doing with their threescore years and ten – and to what broader purpose.
The programme is not the programme; the leaders are the programme
Endings are important – as a tribe I’ve found, generally, that leaders are better at beginnings. Last May, chilly though Oxford can be on a Spring evening, we lit a vast bonfire in the woods behind Egrove on the final night of the programme to mark the ending with a ritual, an opening up of thinking space. People – more used to convening around board tables – threw into it, actually and metaphorically, what they wanted to leave behind. Aspects of their jobs that were furring up the arteries of leadership: past competencies still clung to, insecurities that clouded boldness, diaries full of unproductive meetings and obsolete customs. All of these hit the flames. No phones were thrown – but there was talk...
People left the OSLP oddly lighter, given how many ideas they had encountered, and more energetic, despite the late nights of conversation and reflection. More precisely, they went back to their organisations with a clearer sense of what needed to be done – and that they were the ones to do it.