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The Road Less Traveled By : Trailblazing, Emotional Intelligence and Change Management

 

Forward – Alrik D'Silva

 

The term “change management” has always been dismissed by students as a buzzword or a twist on a potential interview question, but the truth is, every year of university presents a plethora of new situations with little time to adapt. In the few short years I’ve been here, whether it’s academics, extra-curriculars or having a social life, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that the only constant in life is change. Everything else is simply a matter of how you choose to adapt and respond to it. During my limited time at Queen’s, I’ve met countless people who have been inspiring to watch and learn from the way they lead by example. Here are some of the key attributes of a few change leaders who have been bred at Queen’s:

 

1. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

 

The concept of transformational leaders having a high emotional intelligence is not a new idea – however, its emphasis in the workforce is steadily increasing. The best leaders can embody two polarizing characteristics; being both self-aware as well as having a high understanding of relationships is crucial for driving a team towards the goals of high performance and strong relationships.

 

Diving – Matt Renzoni

 

Making the decision to stay in Koh Tao for nearly two months last summer was not one I made overnight. When I saw staying as a reality, there were a ton of costs to consider. I had already booked a flight to Sri Lanka to meet up with a friend I met in Vietnam and I was still very keen on seeing the Philippines and Indonesia in the time I had left. When I started diving, I was a lot more uncomfortable under the water than I thought I would be, but it fueled my fire to keep going. After all, it is human nature to want to become comfortable in situations you were once uncomfortable in. I think the best thing I did to better understand the dive shop and the diving process was to find a “kingpin” in the organization. I hit off quite well with Cat, my instructor for both my open water and advanced courses because we both have very similar senses of humour. She had a PHD in chemistry, and nearly two years ago took a huge risk to leave her life in England in order to pursue life as a scuba instructor. Cat was also the first one to bring the idea of staying to my attention. Not only was she a remarkably strong diver, but her teaching ability was second to none, which was why I took as many opportunities to learn from her as I could.

 

Although scuba diving is not meant to be a “fight or flight” sport (yes, I just called it a sport), it requires great attention to detail and many split-second decisions. Leadership ability is vital in situations before, during and, after dives, and a lot of it boils down to group management skills. As a divemaster, you create the environment that your customers dive in, and during your training, a large component of the skills learned deal with lowering the stress levels of divers to decrease the likelihood of them panicking underwater. When you take divers out onto the water, it’s up to you to create a fun and encouraging environment for them to improve their skills, while monitoring the behaviour and body language of divers to ensure that they always feel safe and comfortable.

 

Divemasters can take out between 1-4 divers out at a time, with the likelihood of having a stressed diver increasing as the number goes up. During my divemaster training (DMT), learning to manage those rare cases of panic helped me develop the ability to calm divers down and solve problems under the water while understanding the importance of preventing them. These skills are tested over and over again throughout the training to ensure you feel comfortable in any situation, with the ability to respond and adapt as required. The final DMT test, called the “stress test”, involves two divemasters trainees alternatively breathing from one regulator while attempting to successfully swap each piece of equipment (ie. mask, weight belt, BC and tank, fins). The transition from not being sure if I even wanted to complete my DMT, to finishing the stress test -  it felt the same as when I played rugby and we won huge tournaments. What a feeling!

 

2. CALCULATED RISKS

 

There’s a massive difference between successful entrepreneurs and LinkedIn “wantrepreneurs” – the first is being fully committed to the project and the second is taking smart risks. There are situations that require taking a leap of faith, but navigating through change is heavily dependant on understanding the environment and making data-driven decisions.

 

Driving Growth - Sam Battista

 

There's a simple formula for achieving any type of change. Firstly, you have to start. Secondly, you have to go all the way. It's quite simple, but it's brutally difficult. Most companies and frankly most people never even start. They say the risk is too high. At times, they spend more time deliberating the risk than the time it would take to just start doing it. At PropertySpark, we start quickly. We don't let time get in the way of innovation.

 

After we start, our method of eliminating risk is by going all the way. If you commit to not stopping until you get your first customer then you will get your first customer. You may have to add features, change processes, iterate again and again, but eventually you will get your first customer. Once you've achieved that, you've won. And once you've won, you've eliminated the risk.

 

I think being a start-up is the best advantage we can have. We don't have to wait to start and we know how to get to the end quickly. That's what allows us to take on so many risks and make so many changes. That's what allows us to stay ahead of everybody.

 

3. TOP-DOWN AND BOTTOM-UP LEADERSHIP

 

Traditional leadership places value on the idea that the strongest leaders can single-handedly guide and direct the trajectory of a team, with this being exemplified in the celebrity-status business moguls that we hold as the pinnacle of leadership. Leaders such as Zuckerberg, Musk, Brin & Page and Bezos have been celebrated for wielding the reins, but what is often ignored is the reliance these leaders have on others. Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity all required a massive amount of input and knowledge from industry experts who understood the space. This idea of bottom-up decision-making has swept through businesses, with the belief that participation from employees and the opportunity to share ideas and feedback can lead to groundbreaking, innovative product offerings or solutions. The truth is, that the decision between an autocratic top-down and a bottom-up feedback style is not mutually exclusive – in different scenarios, each approach can be highly beneficial.

 

Changing Perspectives on Orientation Week - Dale Nerland

 

I believe that the most important aspect of change management is communication. You can change whatever you want about an initiative, but if your stakeholders are not aware of it, the effort is often wasted. For me, when my team and I were managing Orientation Week, our most obvious task was to revamp some of the events and logistics. However, what ultimately made us successful was our ability to manage perceptions. People’s perceptions are inherently linked to reality, but augmented by their personal biases. When we started, many stakeholders had very different perceptions of the week. We had to take an active approach to managing our superiors, the leaders, and the incoming students. The events and logistics changed, but not as drastically as people sometimes believe. Yet, people touted a dramatic change. This is because we made our changes very visible, effectively crafting our narrative, and telling the story of how and why changes were occurring.

 

Our goal was always to improve the experience of the week for the incoming students, but we took over many best-in-class traditions and events. At the end of the day, what had primarily changed was how each group of stakeholders perceived Orientation Week, not the tradition of the week itself. It will take many years for the changes we initiated to fully take root, and it is the people that carry this mentality forward that have solidified it for future classes.

 

Leadership is only innate to a certain extent; like all great attributes, it has to be harnessed, developed and challenged often before success is even considered a metric. Leaders are a product of their environment, but they are equally responsible for creating their own environment.



 

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