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Developing women in leadership

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I was surfing Twitter looking for an inspirational read and came across @HomewardBound16. Homeward Bound is a ‘Global movement helping women learn how to lead for the future of our planet’.  It is all about taking young female scientists into challenging environments and through a combination of learning by doing, coaching and structured programmes on leadership helping these future leaders develop the leadership skills and mental toughness required to change the world. 

Needless to say I am following the adventures of this amazing project and recommend all women in leadership (or anyone else interested in watching an epic adventure unravel) take a look. During my wide and varied career I have taken part in and led trips similar to this including an expedition to Chile with Raleigh International (or Operation Raleigh as it was then) in my youth, caving/climbing/canoeing expeditions in the Army, tours with sports teams around the world and then there are all the exercises, operations and adventures I encountered in the Army. As a result I am passionate about the power and use of experiential learning and adventure in the development of leadership capability. 

The outdoors and expeditions provide an excellent environment for the development of young leaders – apprentices, graduates and early careers. For many women especially, it provides an opportunity to experience tough conditions, come out of their comfort zone, explore and learn. When introduced to team building and leadership development programmes, combined with coaching and psychometrics, women flourish, grow in confidence and become stronger as leaders. Expeditions such as Homeward Bound and Raleigh International are particularly powerful due to the memories they create and the confidence they generate. 

Expeditions also provide women with an opportunity to bond and understand what it is to be in a high performing team. Geoffrey Webb – a Former US attack helicopter pilot provides some insight into the five characteristics of elite teams:

  1. Deep trust
  2. High standards
  3. Strong commitment
  4. Worthwhile purpose
  5. Shared suffering

I believe Geoffrey has hit the nail on the head with his five characteristics. These underpinned my experience on Operation Raleigh, at Sandhurst and throughout my career as an Army Officer and then leader in an Engineering and Technical business. Any leadership development event which creates these conditions inspires and grows leadership capability and this applies to women as well as men. Homeward Bound is doing this in a world leading way by taking a group of female scientists to Antarctica with a worthwhile purpose:

‘The initiative, turned global movement, aims to heighten the influence and impact of women with a science background in order to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet’ , explains Fabian Dattner – Co-Founder Homeward Bound Leadership Programme. 

The expedition has high standards, and has generated strong commitment by aligning women in leadership and science with a worthwhile and greater-good cause of raising awareness of the state of the world. The conditions of Antarctica and the challenges of the expedition will create shared suffering, but the process of working together to overcome this suffering will fuel the growth of these women as future leaders.

In my lifetime I have experienced events like this and rate them amongst my best learning experiences. The life and leadership skills I gained on my adventures took me to the British Army and led to the award of an MBE for my leadership of a Transformation Programme at the height of my career. I learnt to manoeuvre through a world dominated by men and have carved a career in Science and Technology, leading technical projects in Command and Control Systems, Automated Battlefield Systems and Future Soldier Technology. Women need to be tough to survive the business world, but they are clever, talented and have many skills that have been lacking for years in senior leadership. Events such as Homeward Bound are ground breaking, fantastic to see and an inspiring concept. 

But there’s no need to take every female (or male) leader to Antarctica in order to galvanise leadership development. Businesses can do this on a much smaller scale by combining good leadership facilitation, role models and conditions that generate the five characteristics of elite teams. In most cases successful leaders already possess the qualities they need, the secret in leadership development is finding ways to encourage these qualities to emerge and help individuals recognise them, and then get people to put them into practice, and that’s where programmes such as Homeward Bound can make all the difference.



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