I’d heard so many good things about the American Express Leadership Academy and was super keen to attend myself having just been promoted to my first Director role. I was therefore keen to understand how I can smoothly transition from a more tactical role to an organization-wide strategic role, understand how I influence beyond my reporting lines and ultimately build my confidence to lead at this level.

So, as you can imagine, my expectations were high but the Academy certainly didn’t disappoint. What I wasn’t prepared for was how mentally tiring it is (no one had mentioned this part). In order for you to get the most out of the programme you need to give it your everything and that’s long days, dedication and total contribution. It’s important to be really clear on what you want to get out of it before you start, take time to reflect each day and summarize your learnings and actions at the end of the Academy as there is so much to take in and apply.

The four days were truly incredible – jam-packed with content, practical workshops, speeches on thought-leadership, action learning sets, masterclasses, off-site visits, coaching, topped off with lots of pick-n-mix meetings where I got to know some truly inspiring sector leaders. I particularly loved the Collab!

I learnt so much over the programme and there were many standout moments that really grabbed us all – one for me being on ‘authenticity’. I never thought it would be a revelation simply understanding that it’s okay to be me. I would often look at other people – what they’ve achieved, how they behave – and think in order to do my job better I needed to be more like them. However, they aren’t me. The people around us value our talents and leadership skills because we are who we are. No other reason. This ties nicely into our brand “the essence of me that lives in people’s mind, independent of me but usually built by me”. I love this as I believe that any great leadership starts with understanding and empowering those around us and channelling their passions and energy to achieve great things together.

I could go on with so much that I learnt. However, one of the most important lessons I’ve taken away from the Academy and applied numerous times since, is to focus on the ‘why’. You don’t need to be an expert across all specialisms (and can’t possibly be) you simply need to ask the right questions, give yourself time to reflect on the options whilst silencing the barrage of voices and noise that can often distract and remain focused on the ‘why’. This has been played out through a big decision I had to make around a large time-bound project affecting many people, multiple entities and processes.