From success to significance: the evolutionary pathway of a true leader

4 minute read

As graduation season approaches in Japan in March, students at graduation ceremonies are either hanging onto every word of the long-winded speeches by guests or struggling to keep their emotions in check as their minds wander. It is a reminder of the joys and challenges of being a student.

But amidst the sea of speeches, one graduation address by an American university's assistant professor stood out to me. The message was simple and significant: embrace downfalls proactively, instead of focusing solely on success. This philosophy is based on the words of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who emphasized that: ‘It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.’ The assistant professor's interpretation of embracing downfalls proactively is an intriguing concept.

Reflecting on my own journey, I recall a time when I was climbing the career ladder and writing optimistically about my future in a blog post. However, I eventually left the business world behind and began a new journey with a smile on my face in 2022. I realised that I had a deep-seated desire to contribute more to society than just in the business world, and the Covid-19 pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for me to re-evaluate my career. As Marcus Aurelius said: ‘If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.’ With this in mind, I decided to become a full-time student in an unfamiliar country and discipline, challenging myself to make the world a better place.

A VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) environment is challenging. However, I intentionally created one, and enjoyed the experiment to aim for success in an unknown new world. I attribute this to my time at Saïd Business School, where I learned to handle difficulties with resilience in any circumstance. As I approach the six-month mark of my new life in a different field of study, I reflect on the versatility of the skills I learnt on the Diploma in Organisational Leadership programme at Saïd Business School. I find myself using those skills to deepen and broaden my leadership abilities.

As I reflect on my journey transitioning into a new field of study and leaving behind the business world of my past, I recognise the unique challenges presented by my new environment. Unlike my previous experiences, work no longer proceeds with ease and tacit agreement among peers of the same generation. Instead, the majority of individuals are of a younger generation – that of my children – and traditional business assumptions and strategies no longer hold true. To address these challenges, I am compelled to adopt a fresh and more strategic approach to cultivating trust and building cohesive teams. Although my past accomplishments in the business world may not hold the same weight in my new field, I am discovering innovative ways to build influence through more meaningful connections, leveraging my networking experience to build new relationships from scratch in a field I have never been involved in before, and to contribute to project success in unexpected ways.

Delightfully abandoning the past glory and proactively embracing downfalls and intentionally creating a VUCA environment are crucial for personal and professional evolution. It takes courage to challenge oneself, step out of the comfort zone and intentionally fail. However, by doing so, one can evolve into a true leader who is not afraid of change.

The Executive Diploma in Organisational Leadership programme at Saïd Business School can provide the skills and knowledge necessary to apply in various fields, helping individuals broaden their leadership abilities and make a difference in the world.

In conclusion, Marcus Aurelius' words are a reminder to live life fully without fear of failure or change. By embracing downfalls proactively and intentionally creating a VUCA environment, we can evolve into a new kind of leader, beyond the limits of our current selves, with a transformative and adaptive leadership style that can better navigate an unpredictable and complex world.

Oxford Executive Diploma in Organisational Leadership