A coffee and change

5 minute read

I raised the window screen and looked out over the English countryside, feeling the large aeroplane slowly descend as the sun gently rose through soft clouds lingering in the morning sky. My exhaustion from a transcontinental red-eye flight faded as a strong sense of excitement arose within me. After months of preparing, I was finally here!

I couldn’t wait to walk through the doors of Saïd Business School to begin Module 1 of the Executive Diploma in Organisational Leadership programme. My mind raced with thoughts of what I would learn, who I would meet, and how I would ultimately transform from this experience – but there was also a dash of nervousness as I anticipated the unknowns. What if the course material was harder than I expected (after all, it had been over 10 years since I had participated in an academic programme)? What if I tested positive on my Covid entry test and had to quarantine? What if I felt completely out of place? Who will I become as I emerge from this long-anticipated, professionally life-changing experience?

As I reflect on these initial curiosities after having now completed two modules, a very clear lesson emerges from my time thus far as an Oxford student – the anxiety about the unknowns is worth the immensely rewarding, powerful feeling of transformation that emerges from pursuing this growth opportunity. In fact, a little bit of friction in life helps to make us aware that we are moving forward, venturing into the unknown, and engaging in something that will change us. Perhaps one could even call it growing pains – the breakdown of the familiar structure for the ultimate support for something more robust, more complex to emerge. Ultimately, I have found that I worked through the nervousness (and the Covid tests!) to find my place on a programme that values my unique experience and perspective. The classroom feels like a think tank for our cohort to explore relevant, challenging ideas related to a diverse range of leadership topics that impact us across our various organisations. Our professors help to guide our focus in this endeavour in a simultaneously approachable and knowledgeable manner. I am amazed at how naturally our cohort has constructed invigorating dialogue, weaving together lessons learnt across industries ranging from healthcare to education, and life experiences from all corners of the globe, from Canada to Nepal. This has stretched beyond the classroom to study groups, dinners, coffee breaks, and chance occurrences for debate wandering through the winding streets of Oxford. Despite differences in our backgrounds, our cohort has many things in common; many of the same questions, aspirations, hopes, and concerns. This shared purpose unites us and that to me is part of the magic – although for each person it is unique, transformation is all around us.

Change for me has come in the form of inspiration and perspective. I feel fortunate that I started this programme concurrently with a milestone promotion in my career, in which I find myself increasingly in positions of greater responsibility and accountability requiring a higher degree of leadership. It is uncanny how the topics in the programme parallel questions or challenges I face each day in my work, and how I constantly draw inspiration for new ways of thinking and operating based on this. For example, discussions about employee motivation and team dynamics in Module 1, sparked different ideas for how I could approach structuring tasks or meetings as well as the tactics I was using to encourage and inspire my team. Additionally, the ideas presented on strategy in Module 2 changed my perspective about how to approach the utilisation of a particular solution in my industry (technology consulting). I built and shared a presentation incorporating this perspective, and was amazed when the feedback from others highlighted that it was also inspiring a different way of thinking for those around me. Moments like this have made my own transformation, stemming from the Oxford programme, abundantly clear to me.

But what about the growing pains? How do we ensure that the friction that comes with transformation results in more growth than break-down? Certainly, the positive outcomes of connection, learning, and inspiration help, but I have found that a focus on routine and the comfort that comes from this is also an effective counterbalance. For me, this has included a habit of venturing out to a favourite café to have breakfast during my mornings in Oxford, while reviewing articles or notes in anticipation of class later that day. The routine of walking the historic streets each day, seeing familiar faces, and finding a seat in my favourite spot makes me feel more at home. I also make a point to connect with my wife each day and share pictures or thoughts via periodic, brief text messages with her about my experience. This intentionally keeps me connected to my life back home in the United States and provides me with an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of what I’m experiencing during my time away. Finally, there is a routine built into the programme itself in terms of the pattern of returning to Oxford for each module.

As I write this and look ahead to Module 3, I am excited to board the aeroplane again, to join my cohort in the classroom and on the winding streets of the city, and to feel inspired as I sip on a coffee at my favourite café.