Leadership requires a capacity to transcend adversity and emerge stronger

4 minute read
Audrey Orhon

As the weeks go by and I get closer to starting module two of the Oxford Executive Diploma in Organisational Leadership, I cannot express how incredibly fortunate I feel to not only have this opportunity but to be part of an educational institute that can thrive and adapt in amazing ways. 

I mean, who knew that a major global pandemic crisis would erupt right as we said our goodbyes after module one? The lives of billions of people around the world have been thrown upside down; political leaders around the world are being tested to their limits and business leaders from large corporations to small private enterprises are having to take actions and make decisions they never imagined. The learning from module one, Leadership Fundamentals, could not be more relevant than it is today.

In October 2019, when I applied for a place in the 2020 diploma, I thought my life as a leader was challenging. Having lived through the complexities of a large corporate merger, three years of organisational integration, an international move with my family and the day-to-day management of a dual career household with two young kids, life was busy. Adding a rigorous diploma programme into the mix didn’t exactly seem conducive to a more balanced life. However, my desire to be a more informed and well-rounded leader was insatiable. I’m thankful that my passion and commitment shone through in my application essays and not only was I accepted onto the programme, but I was also awarded a scholarship.

Having spent the last 20 years focused on a fulfilling career in the oil and gas industry, returning to education and the discipline of study and learning was both daunting and exciting. I was equal parts petrified of failure and full of ambition. In the run-up to the first module, I was able to carve out four to five hours a week to focus on the essential reading and to prepare my mind for being a student again. I spent time making sure I understood the course overview, structure and lesson plan for the four-day long in-person module. I took full advantage of all the preparatory material provided by the programme administrators.

Despite growing up in the UK, arriving in Oxford on 18 February was my first visit to the city. I was not disappointed. It is a beautiful city, buzzing with history and the energy of a prestigious academic hub. The recruitment and admissions team was kind enough to organise an informal meet and greet for our cohort of students. I was immediately struck by how diverse, smart and fun the people I would soon call friends were.

Arriving on day one, the seamless process of registration was an opportunity to meet some of the fantastic team working behind the scenes to run the executive programmes. We also enjoyed the opportunity to meet the remaining cohort for morning coffee in the Club Room, one of a number of excellent social, dining and networking areas.

Over the course of the next four days, we were immersed in an educational and social experience that I will treasure both personally and professionally. The opportunity to learn and network with like-minded and different minded people has been invaluable. The module provided extensive formal and informal opportunities to socialise outside of the structured classes and workshops, which added significant value to an already fulfilling agenda.

As we said our goodbyes on 22 February, we could not have anticipated the magnitude of events that would unfold during the subsequent weeks. Our class representative nominees had no idea what they had just signed up for.

Over the course of the next few weeks, it became clear that our world was changing dramatically and the University faculty immediately set about strategising how to continue our education while respecting the new global rules around travel and social distancing. Managing the needs of an extremely diverse group, not only on our diploma but on all the other executive education programmes, is a wicked problem. Our recently elected class representatives demonstrated their commitment to the role by presenting a balanced view of our class opinions which, in turn, allowed the faculty to determine a fair proposal for the continuation of the programme.

While I am hopeful that our cohort will be able to continue together and graduate in Autumn 2021, it will not be surprising if some may need to defer – particularly those whose professions have them occupied with the response to the pandemic or who have been negatively impacted by the ensuing economic crisis. It is a positive reflection of the ethos at the School that they are committed to the success of all students in their education, particularly during these dramatic and difficult times.

How this crisis will evolve is uncertain. How we respond and adapt in our personal and professional lives is crucial to our long-term success. As we learned in module one, ‘true leadership results from an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and requires a capacity to learn and adapt and to transcend adversity and emerge stronger’. The experience of the pandemic will be our crucible.