In year 2015, a confidante andwell-known deaf leader, Jane Cordell, identified my leadership qualities and encouraged me to go on the American Express Leadership Academy programme. After reading more about the programme on the website, I was completely bowled over by what it offered and immediately applied for a place.
On arriving at the Leadership Academy and reading the list of attendees in the programme pack, I was shocked that I was going to be spending a week in a room full of senior managers, heads of departments and CEOs. I began to think, ‘what have I got myself into?!’ However, during the week, my fears quickly subsided as I found that 45 of us in the room shared similar traits and in fact I was in the right place to learn from the very best. The leadership programme was high-quality, intensive, challenging and hugely demanding, all in a good way. We were pushed to the limit and beyond in terms of our characters, actions and beliefs.
Prior to the leadership programme, my aspirations were to progress to senior management level. I wanted to prove to other people that as a deaf person I have the ability to lead in a hearing world, a world whose culture is fundamentally different from that of the deaf community. The challenges I faced before the programme were low self-belief, not being comfortable with myself, numerous career setbacks, and people’s perceptions of me as a deaf person. Further, the sports sector as a whole is not yet ready to be open-minded to offering senior leadership positions to deaf people, which has made the journey to the top all the more challenging for me.
What I found personally transformational during the programme was realising that leadership is all about understanding myself first. That was the bottom line and that had a profound effect on me. The programme also made me realise that I have a lot of soul-searching to do, getting to know myself, developing my self-belief, and identifying what I want to do as a leader.
The soul-searching process is deeply painful, I am facing a lot of personal realities that I need to overcome, and the leadership programme has given me the ‘life nudge’ to change to the direction I want. I have also realised that in order to make true changes within the sports sector, specific leadership qualities such as courage, humility and collaboration are required in order to lead beyond authority.
The powerful ‘life nudge’ from the leadership programme, the honest and humble stories from Chief Executives of national well-known organisations, peers, tutors and real-life leadership examples from community organisations has given me plenty of food for thought, tools and tips to take away. My key focus areas following the Programme are to continue to work hard to overcome my personal challenges and understand myself more as a person before I can fully unleash my potential as a leader.
I would like to thank Interactive and London Sport, my employers, and Common Purpose and American Express, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this fantastic programme. I am still truly inspired by everybody who attended the leadership programme and I thank them for giving me the newfound confidence that I did not have since I left university almost ten years ago.