Saïd Business School, University of Oxford United Kingdom
I recently participated in Oxford Saïd’s first ever Aspen Institute Leadership Seminar, themed “Leading with Purpose in a Networked World,” which was designed for 20 students enrolled at a Global Network for Advanced Management member school. Aligning with what Oxford Saïd stands for, the Aspen Institute also brings together future leaders from diverse backgrounds and skillset, allowing for a space to come together, and to think more critically in reflection of leading for the betterment of society as a whole.
Prior to applying for the seminar, I had known that Aspen Institute held small confidential development seminars, but I didn’t truly understand the extent of what took place during these self-development retreats. Aspen Seminars are known to empower leaders to think more conscientiously in not only their decision-making but to also reflect on self-leadership. Aspen’s mission states,“leadership begins with self-leadership, and we cannot lead others unless we can lead ourselves.”
Now, after having participated in the seminar, it’s much clearer to me that self-leadership and self-awareness is essential in understanding what it is to really appreciate and recognise one’s core values and how our moral choices are the precept to conscientious decision-making. I think one of the greatest gifts we can reward ourselves with is being confident and leading a life of purpose. I can only assume that human nature inherently is rational when it comes to understanding meaning and purpose, but there are challenges to being rational and thus decision-making bias contributes to irrational decisions, where ultimately, we fail to consider alternative explanations and the implications of them.
At the Aspen Seminar, we had an opportunity to evaluate some of the issues that have taken place through history, which have ultimately led to some of the social injustices that are prevalent today. During the seminar, we explored and recognised some of the occurrences, and this allowed me to gain a better understanding to my own rationale. I left with a better understanding of why I have made certain decisions, which include; why did I really go to business school, why am I so passionate about the welfare of those less fortunate, and how can I grow as a person without guilt? The Aspen Institute helped me to define those answers.
Participants were given readings before the start of the seminar, which included such works from philosophers Socrates and Plato, and controversial topics such as nationalism, gender, slavery, politics, among other thought provoking subjects. These topics were not only intellectually stimulating, but also genuinely set in motion connections to myself and the complex yet harsh reality of the postmodern world we live in today. What was unique about the dialogue and open discussions was that, there was not a right or wrong answer, and I really felt that I could open up to fellow participants without judgement and without reservation, as the space and moderator provided a setting and tone to allow for alternative perspectives and contemplation of subjects that shape opinion and communities all around the world. The seminar also provided a space for consideration of my own actions and judgement within the context of my role as a mother, leader, advocate and global citizen. Moreover, what was relevant about the seminar was that much of the current coursework within the MBA programme at Oxford Saïd was in a sense parallel to the dialogue. Oxford Saïd prides itself for leading the way to confronting global opportunities and threats, which is influenced by methods of leadership, innovation, and decision-making for both business and social good.
There were several highlights during the seminar, of which one had a profound impact on me. I’ve never led a choir, let alone read music and had the opportunity to lead a choir group without any knowledge or direction until the seminar. This was just one of the highlights as this experience allowed me to consider my own discipline as it relates to leadership style and in a sense, how to engage in diplomacy and adaptation to those you lead. There were many other memorable moments during the seminar, and ones that I will cherish the most are the insightful and incredible discussions I had with fellow participants who just like I am, are challenged everyday with decision-making and desire to lead with purpose.
I never thought I would have been so interested in learning more about the Socratic method and applying philosophical ethics and common ground that during the Renaissance era, has shaped today’s world. Ironically, we are trying to reshape the world today with them same philosophical principles, but this time with a better understanding. In reflecting on the seminar, I feel that I have left with a better appreciation of myself and my role as leader. Participating in the Oxford Saïd Aspen Leadership Seminar has also allowed me to understand and consider my place in a networked world.
Leaving the seminar, I have gained new lifelong friends through the Global Network for Advanced Management, comprising of leading global business schools from all over the world, and gaining access to resources and networks where I am able to exchange and explore opportunities from diverse educational institutions and leaders in business. At the end of the day, these new relationships have brought me closer to a distinct group of individuals with commonality, as we all stand together with the same understanding of purpose and connectivity.
Thank you for the opportunity.