Lotifa's Story

Lotifa Begum / 5 min read

Aligning personal and professional priorities as a leader.

For me, the American Express Leadership Academy was a different kind of leadership programme. It brought together diverse leaders from the UK’s not-for-profit sector for five days of immersive learning, self-awareness and personal development.

It was intensive, with days starting at 9am and finishing after dinner but it brought together so many wonderful people working towards a common goal – to help others and make a positive impact in the world.

I had the opportunity to hear from a range of inspiring speakers from various sectors including the big commercials and private sector. A senior leader American Express sharing her personal leadership journey - coming from a working class background and breaking the glass ceiling - made it very relatable for me as a young Muslim woman to aspire to greater leadership roles. I learnt that it is important to be true to yourself, have authentic leadership and also to take on board feedback from colleagues who I had the pleasure of sharing this journey with.

As a young British Muslim woman I found some of the activities such as the Collab session, where we had to work within small groups, very useful to understand how strong partnerships and collaborations form. I was part of the John Lewis case study group which was a lot of fun! It helped me to think more about how not-for-profit organizations can use the power of good to work with big companies like John Lewis where the values of ethical and sustainable communities merge. The more common the goals of a partner, the more valuable the partnership will be in driving positive change in society. I enjoyed working with people from the mainstream third sector and felt empowered by the support we offered each other about our challenges working in organizations with limited resources.

I believe that the Academy experience taught me that my insights and personal experiences can add value to the organizations I work with and that it is vital to work in diverse teams with different viewpoints. If we can see things from the perspective of others, and not always from those who share our opinions, we are able make more sound decisions and better informed ones. I also learnt that I can be more inclusive in my language with people, for example I try to share my own faith teachings when working with partners but it is equally important to understand the motivations behind other people’s work and values.

Over the course of the Academy, I developed a positive bond with colleagues who I had never met before from all walks of life, some from London and many others from the North and South of England. I found it really encouraging that I can now count on these people to give me feedback on projects and managing certain areas of my work. I am hopeful that my contributions working in a faith based organization inspired people to work with similar organizations. The approach I took was to listen and engage positively, as well as to be open to working with a wider range of stakeholders in the mainstream. I like to take a participatory approach and must ensure that this translates into my work as a leader/manager of any teams I work with.

The session on personal brand really highlighted to me that it is vital to strike a work-life balance in order to bring the best version of yourself to what you do and to align passion with purpose. I found that personal and professional priorities do not need to be conflicting with each other but rather that the organization I work for should be able to accommodate and understand these priorities. I already bring to work my whole self and I believe that strong communication with my team is necessary in order to ensure the wellbeing of each colleague as we all have various roles in our lives that we are trying to juggle.

I feel the programme has been a positive reinforcement of my skills and abilities which sometimes can be difficult if you don’t always have self-confidence. It gave me the boost I needed to reconsider the strengths and weaknesses I have in my work now and how I can improve by leveraging my colleagues’ insights and feedback regularly. I found it useful to map out the key priorities that I am juggling in my life alongside work and to re-centre myself so that I do the things that matter to me, my vision and contribute to achieving the best version of myself along this leadership journey which is a lifelong learning experience.

Lotifa Begum is the Global Advocacy and Campaigns Adviser for Malala Fund. 
She took part in the American Express Leadership Academy in 2019.

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