I attended the Aurora Institute for Emerging Leaders, held at the picturesque Q Station, Manly NSW, 25-29th May. Before I jumped on the plane to Sydney, I spent some time Googling it. There are a few papers about the Institute, but I only found one report written by past participant. Now that I have done it, I understand that it is not easy to share the things I learnt because they’re personal and involved other participants or mentors. Nonetheless, there are things that I think are worth sharing with others, so I created a version of my report back presentation I did at work 2 weeks ago and shared it here. My presentation notes are available in the Notes tab on SlideShare.
Aurora was a great experience, I am very, very grateful for the opportunity and support from my workplace. I came away with a few tools that help me to become a better communicator and collaborator. I learnt about my leadership capabilities, my strengths and areas for improvement based on the self-description and description by others profiles from the Life Styles Inventory. I had plenty of opportunities to practise how to think on my feet, manage my composure under pressure, how to deal with the different energies in a team, how to tell a story and give better presentations.
I never aspire to be the leader of an organisation, I didn’t even want to be a manager, I’m an introvert, INTP, to be exact. If I can spend the rest of my life solving complex problems, I will be quite happy. But in order for me to continue to grow professionally and personally, I need to do the hard stuff (translate: dealing with people). I saw a quote in a tweet quite a while ago, “You need to do what you need to do in order to do what you want to do”, very true. I realise I don’t need to be at the top of the rank to be a good leader. However, leadership is hard, I’m willing to work on it because I know why I want to do it.
Based on the feedback and what I learnt from Aurora, I’m working on a development plan, it will take a while because I’m still reading up on the things that I want to learn more about. Until I have a plan, I keep reminding myself what I said I’d do on the last day of Aurora, I need to 1). improve my people skill, and 2). become more visible. I have done a few things differently since Aurora:
- My slides for the above report back presentation don’t have much text, I used pictures as visual tool to help me connect with my audience. I didn’t hide behind the lectern, I took time to pause and watched the reactions of my audience, I even cracked a couple of jokes (and they laughed, they’re very nice people). I gave another presentation at a postgraduate conference last week using a similar approach, and received great feedback from the organisers. That definitely made me feel more confident, I used to finish presentations as quickly as I can, as I don’t want to take up too much time and I don’t like all the attention.
- A few weeks ago, I was on a panel at a research symposium attended by librarians from all 5 University Libraries in WA, there weren’t much discussion or hard questions but I presented something that I wouldn’t normally say in a forum like that. It’s the infamous imposter syndrome, who wants to hear my opinions anyway, what if they don’t like my idea and think I’m stupid? So-and-so can definitely do a better job than me, etc…
- I started to voice my opinions even I know nothing will change in the short term, I stopped worrying whether my boss is going to like what I say/not say in meetings.
- I started to try different ways to show my colleagues that I’m interested in them as a person, not just about work. Facts and figures are important, but it’s a lot easier if you can win their hearts first. This doesn’t come naturally with me, I’m not confident I can ever nail this, but I will continue to try.
It may not sound difficult to most people, but all of the above still make me uncomfortable. I grew up in an environment which I got rewarded for being quiet, thoughtful, and good. I was taught the sayings from The Analects of Confucius at primary school, “食不語、寢不言” (He did not chat while eating, and did not talk after retiring). Believe it or not, when we’re little, my parents were very strict, nobody spoke a word during family dinner (not anymore, of course!). Even now I have lived in Australia longer than I lived in Hong Kong, it is deeply ingrained and I find quite difficult to change. I feel that Aurora gave me the strength and a very good reason to try these things, I’m not going to become a totally different person, I will still embrace my culture and diversity I bring to my workplace, but I will (slowly but surely) become a better version of me.