I am currently a fellow in the Startup Leadership Program – London. SLP describes itself as highly selective, global, world-class training program and lifelong global network for outstanding founders, leaders and innovators who want to become startup CEOs. At the beginning of the program each fellow selected a class that they would be fully responsible for organizing. I chose to be the so-called Class CEO for the “Leadership & Negotiations” class.
In the class information document provided for all SLP fellows, the “Leadership & Negotiations” class is described as an opportunity to discuss intimate issues that include hiring and firing, co-founder conflict, personal journeys, mistakes and survival. As this year’s cohort has additional classes dedicated to the subjects of co-founder conflicts as well as negotiations, the focus of this class shifted to the ins and outs of leading, including the future of leadership.
The class CEO from the previous year, Jerome Rousselot, emphasised two learning points: 1) inviting too many experts to speak might prove less effective; and 2) having leaders with varied experiences, such as corporate vs. startup leadership, is really useful for fellows. Thank you Jerome!
Class set up
The class had two parts. For the first segment, I invited three leaders to speak with us about their own experiences, their expectations on the future of leadership as well as to offer any guidance to real-life circumstances with which the fellows have been confronted. In the second segment, fellows were separated into four groups to role play three scenarios. Both segments were informed by a questionnaire that the fellows were asked to complete ahead of the session.
The three panelists, Gen Ashley, Melanie Eusebe and [2017 fellow] Genevieve Leveille, have a wealth of experience in both corporate and startup environments. Further, they have insider knowledge within the banking and finance as well as tech sectors. Fellows asked questions more general to the role of the leader, including moral and ethical considerations, which reflect the shift away from the profit-driven manager to the thought leader. There were also questions on self-care, boundaries and trusting intuition.
While some fellows did not see the significance of discussions on equality, diversity and inclusion within the framework of a leadership class, the panelists made clear why, as a leader, it is imperative not to lose sight of individuals and their personal stories. The discussion often came back to that point in two ways: 1) as leaders it is our responsibility to recognise the privilege, access and power that comes along with the role and how that can be used to empower the next generation of leaders; and 2) as leaders we must respect and protect the hopes and dreams of our team members.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to our panelists for attending the class, speaking openly about their own path to leadership as well as offering hands-on advice on what it means to be a leader.
After a short break, the fellows were given three role-play scenarios and divided into four groups. The scenarios were informed by the answers fellows provided in the questionnaire. Each fellow had the opportunity to play the leader, the second party and the silent observer. Scenario 1, customer-centric problem solving, was designed as a conversation with an undecided customer. Scenario 2, coaching as a leadership style, called for a coaching-style conversation with a direct report in an organisation with a flat hierarchy. And the final scenario, decision-making process, was an opportunity to re-imagine the decision-making process when faced with what appear to be conflicting goals.
Each group used the role plays differently. Some fellows played the scenarios more generically and discussed how it pertained to their own startups after the role play ended, while others used their own startups to play the role of leader and second party. Silent observers commented that it was really interesting to see the variation in approach.
It was really helpful to hear from last year’s CEO, who emphasised the importance of leaders with different backgrounds and experience in varying types and sizes of organisations. I can only reiterate that point. Further, I do think the experiential aspect of the class is even more essential. It is an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback and advice from peers in a non-competitive setting. With fellows having diverse backgrounds and finding themselves in various stages of their startup, their perspectives will contrast which allows for more innovative and creative approaches to facing the challenges of a leader.