A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by student boggers from around the UK.

By Classics Undergraduate at University of Oxford, Sanesh Mistry

The rhetoric proclaiming the importance of being a leader is overwhelming. Leadership programmes are all the rage, whether for individuals or organisations. Business schools in particular have jumped on the bandwagon by offering hundreds of different courses in “leadership”. But what is good leadership in today’s complex, constantly changing and vastly interconnected world?  John Elkington (Co-founder, Volans), David Grayson CBE (Professor of Corporate Responsibility and Director of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility) and Joanna Hafenmayer (Founder, My Impact) tried to find an answer to this and other questions at Emerge, with the support of Cliff Prior (CEO of Big Society Capital) who catalysed the discussion.

We are in the era of enforced extreme transparency and that creates a new set of challenges. not only does your business need to be more transparent, but you, as an individual and as a leader, have to be more authentic, and that partly means having a great story. Indeed, it’s a classic attribute of great leaders’ – ability to tell a compelling story.

Fundamentally, the description of what make a good leader probably hasn’t changed.  At the same time every theory on leadership is as correct as it is a multifactorial equation we are trying to solve.

Granted the fundamental description of what makes a good leader probably hasn’t changed much. But it’s wrapped up in a complex equation of inputs, outputs and context. If you were hoping for a one-size-fits-all persona to emulate you’ll be dissappointed. Leadership is happening in all ages, in all sectors, in all geographies and with that comes a need for variety of attributes. We don’t do ourselves any favours by measuring leadership by an ability to scale, the leader of a highly impactful community organisation is not diminished by its lacking scale.

The time is ripe to experiment. There is no excuse not to be a leader.

Before you take the plunge, here’s some key advice from Emerge:

Be Authentic

  • Don’t fall into the trap of feeling that you have to be the best at everything, leadership is about understanding your own strengths and weaknesses then finding people that naturally compliment your skills set.
  • Be clear on your purpose – both personal and as an organisation. This purpose will help guide who you are and what you do, but perhaps more importantly it will help you decide what you don’t do. You’ll be exposed to so many opportunities that the ability to say no, with a clear view of your priorities is absolutely crucial.
  • Lead with your own morals and standards rather than anyone else’s. These are the perspectives that make you who you are, and will outlive any temporary decisions.

Develop your Leadership

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.‘ – Gandhi

  • Reflect once in awhile and learn to understand yourself to find where you best fit
  • Become a ‘tri-sector athlete’ – the modern world needs people who are familar with the business sector, public sector (local or international) and third sector (civil society). Grab a  wide range of opportunities (experiential learning) in different sectors and have the confidence to try new things.
  • Find a mentor – it’s a brilliant opportunity to go through personal discovery with someone who is already been on this journey.
  • Throw yourself in the deep end – learn about leadership like you would an instrument, you can’t learn to play guitar without touching the strings.

Embrace the “Do It Yourself” Culture 

600,000 people in the UK have created their own companies. We are seeing people opting out of top leadership roles in favour of going it alone.

  • Think creatively about what you want to achieve – a new form of employment is emerging – you don’t have to work for just a big organisation or corporation. It’s a fast evolving world and it’s going to be explored and designed by people who are open for a journey.

Create Societal Change 

30 years ago if you wanted to create an impact on society the only route was by going to politics. Things are different today, there are now multiple very viable routes to bring about societal change.

  • The old economic and political order are going to be profoundly disrupted in the next 10 to 15 years, just as the current 20-somethings reach their leadership peak. Generation Y should be ready and prepared to do what is needed. Every generation is tested and it is going to be under intense, massive and structural reforms of systems and those periods are immensely disoriented, people feel lost, they tend to look out for leadership. Extraordinary times create extraordinary leaders.
  • Look ahead and see the bigger picture – there is a lovely concept on that: strategic leaders, visionary leaders who see second bounce of ball not a thing that`s about to happen but the one after always will be in advantage.