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SOLGM LGLeadershipPathways Scholarship Blogs

logoRoss McCarthy, Strategic and Engagement Manager – GoShift from Wellington City Council shares his experience of the Opus Leading Self programme which he was awarded at the 2015 SOLGM Annual Gala Dinner. 



Build up to the Leading Yourself Course (Opus)

The weeks leading up to the leading yourself course was an interesting time for me, it brought back old feelings of studying as a high school student and completing my building apprenticeship. At first it was that bad feeling of having to retain knowledge and exams, then the feeling transitioned into a whole new experience as I completed the first 2 projects. I realised it was exciting and I couldn’t wait to challenge myself over the coming year.

 The journey to becoming a great leader has to start with yourself, the opportunity to complete this course will more than likely challenge who I am, I’m excited about the possibility of building on the skills I have obtained over the years. Right from being on the construction site as a project manager, through to my current role within Wellington City Council as the strategic and engagement manager of an exciting project to align a number of Councils building consent authority (BCA) functions.

 The First Residential - A week away in Petone

I really didn’t know what to expect walking into the class, I had created a presentation based on a great leader I chose and written a book review which I was picking I needed to present to a group of people I had never met. I would class myself as an average speaker in a group of people that I know the subject on, however I was talking about something that I was far from an expert on i.e. leadership and what makes a great leader. So I was about to start a course with very little confidence and feeling extremely uncomfortable about the situation (I would later figure out that being uncomfortable isn’t necessarily a bad thing)

The first 2 projects we had to complete before the first residential was a great introduction to the course and helped me prepare for the first residential.

Project 1 – Book review which we had to choose a great leader and write the good the bad and the ugly about, create a presentation to be presented to the group about the leader. I of course chose the only great leader that was at top of mind Richie McCaw the greatest all black captain to led the All Blacks to back to back world cup wins, Richie of course had his demons in his book “The Blindside” however he showed grit and determination to be a great leader.

Project 2 – The second project was around a business challenge, I discussed the challenge of the project I was working on called GoShift. The project is the alignment of the building consent authorities (BCA) functions across a number of Councils, the challenge I faced was around getting Councils to buy into the initiative and the shift to a more collaborative way of working. As part of the first residential we were required to ask questions of each other’s challenges without providing a solution, this was great for the first time I felt like I didn’t need to have a solution and I was impressed that our group figured out the answers by simply probing for the answers.

The key learnings for me in the first week were probably different from the person sitting next to me, however you take what you need to and for me it was about reflection, being authentic and listening.

I had made it through the first week feeling relatively unscathed and a sense of achievement, I had met people from Opus that were facing similar issues, and I had been exposed to what the course was going to be like and I felt a sense of the journey beginning.

The Second Residential – Back to the class

The 4 months between the first residential and the second have been busy and I feel I have taken some key learnings away from the course already, after the first residential we were asked to complete at least 7 more of the 15 projects that needed to be completed throughout the course. Being a calculated person I started with the obvious project number 3 as it was after 2, this helped me to focus on the tasks at hand and get on with the projects I needed to do (hang on did I listen to myself and set a strategy to get something completed). I had already started using the skills from the first residential and I didn’t even think about it, this motivated me to keep going and I got stuck into the projects

Project 3 – Reflections on leadership and the strengths you can bring to a role, this was an interesting project as I was also challenged by the fact that I had to think about where I needed to grow as a leader. I reflected on technology and how it has changed the way we work and leadership in such an agile world.

Project 4 – The Reflective Leader [Phase 1], this project was about journaling thoughts about a recent meeting or event, the purpose of journaling was to understand my thoughts and how I made decisions. Although reluctant in this project to journal, I found it very useful to get to the detail of my thoughts and how situations can be different if you can control your emotions and how you react in certain situations. Listening, being authentic and being part of the conversation (not controlling it) can make all of the difference.

Project 5 – The Listening Leader, I reflected on a situation where I had listened intently and been able to understand a situation much better, this was a big ah ha moment for me but not the last one on this course. By listening I had picked up on an issue that I had not realised was there, although I have always listened I hadn’t necessarily been involved in the conversation. I had asked probing questions, been more in tuned with the conversation and generally made the effort to actually be there. I feel this is something we are all guilty of at times and if we made time to actually listen we would be better placed to be a leader.

Project 6 – The Coaching Leader [Phase 1], I stepped out of my comfort zone for this project and decided to do my coaching session with someone outside of the organisation. It was definitely one of those situations where you could say I was comfortably uncomfortable, for the coaching session we arranged to meet at a café and it was one of those moments where you feel like you need to use all of the skills you have learnt and you try your best to remember everything you need to do. Well that lasted about 5 minutes and I just listened, I forgot about all of the things I needed to know and just took part in the coaching session and walked away feeling a sense of achievement.

Project 7 – The Authentic Leader, I had choices in this project but I felt the one thing I needed to work on was reducing my blind spots. This was about reflecting on past events and uncovering our motives and searching for meaning, I chose to reflect on some recent events and uncovered some issues that I feel could have been avoided if I had taken the time to reduce the blind spots. It was another one of those moments that I had discovered why and I could now start thinking about the how, the key things that could have changed the issues were communication, allowing 2 way discussion and being more mindful of different scenarios.

Project 8, 9 and 10 I had made a start on but I would complete after the second residential, I felt like I was going into the second residential a little more prepared but who knows what Wayne has in store for us at the second residential.

The second week in Petone we covered how our emotions can influence the decisions we make, also how they affect others. Before the course I had never really thought about apathy, empathy and sympathy but I discovered it is a key ingredient to how we communicate but also how we manage different scenarios, this was a great insight for me for both my personal and work life. After reflecting on events I definitely found I was more of an apathetic person and how was I going to move to more of an empathetic space, what I had discovered already was that I was being more mindful as the course progressed. This had to be a good thing and would go a long way towards making changes within myself over the coming months.

I definitely felt more comfortable in the second residential as I had spent a week with the people on the course, I had an idea of what to expect but what kept it real for me was how Wayne kept us challenging ourselves and the level of uncomfortableness was what made me retain the information being provided. Before the course I would have said that being mindful and reflecting was a good thing to do, now I would say it is one of the things that is critical for us to be great leaders. We can all go to work to be good, but if we want to be great we need to be mindful and have the ability to look within ourselves to make changes.

The last day of the second residential Wayne put all of his acting skills into use, we all had turns guessing which emotions Wayne was portraying. However, there was a twist Wayne acted in a way that he showed the same emotion each and every time. This to me was great, it showed how much we rely on facial expressions, the pitch of someone’s voice and even how someone acts in a certain situation. It was a great reminder that we need to be in the moment to understand it, to be continued after the 3rd residential and graduation.

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