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Difference is the key: reflections from a Fellow

As I have sat amongst the other 2016 Clore Social Leadership Fellows one thing is for sure, I am not like anyone here. When I began my Fellowship journey, this state of affairs concerned me - we are all supposed to be people who want social change and want to learn how we can be more effective in leading these changes amongst the communities we work with and the social sector in general.

From several of the different tools we have used within the programme to understand our strengths, our styles of working and ‘areas of development’ (apparently we don’t call them weaknesses anymore), I found myself as an outlier. I was one of a handful of reflective thinkers in my learning. This means I like to hear many people’s views before making my mind up on an issue, I don’t like to be rushed into a judgement without having some good facts and it seemed to explain why I don’t particularly like telephone calls where I have to make instant decisions! But looking to the rest of my cohort I saw that the majority of the group were ‘activist learners’, people who want to get up and do things, lots of energy, lots of trying things and not worrying if they don’t work.

We also looked at another tool called the ‘Four Seasons Model’ - which is essentially a less complicated Myers Briggs type test - and I found myself within a smaller group of the ‘Summer’ category. For Summer people their drive, and what gets them up in the morning, is all about people and relationships. Summers generally like balance and harmony in teams, they dislike conflict and like consultative decision-making. Amongst the other Fellows there was a large bunch of ‘Springs’, people who are very creative and love to get new projects off the ground. There was also a good set of ‘Winters’, those who want to get things done who are efficient and take decisions quickly, and each of these seasons obviously have their strengths and weaknesses.

So as these things emerged, and I found myself and my experience to be very different from everyone else's, I had a medium-sized charity existential crisis. I thought to myself, ‘What on earth am I doing working in the charity sector?! I am so different, perhaps I don’t have the right qualities to do this big thing called ‘social change’, and am I failing the Armed Forces communities I work with because I am nothing like any of these other Fellows, Fellows who I admire and am inspired by, and should be more like!’

Yet as I’ve progressed through my Fellowship year, a new perspective is seeping in which has calmed my crisis. If I take nothing else from my time on the Clore Social Leadership programme I will take this: difference is beauty and difference is strength.

Most of my life I have been told to concentrate on the things I am not good at. No doubt this has helped me pass some exams I might have otherwise failed, however this norm has definitely been to the detriment of celebrating what it is that I can do. I have learnt over the Fellowship that ‘positive psychology’ (hear me out) would say to focus on the very things I am good at and to make them excellent. This is because the things we are not very good at we will likely only make mediocre if we try to improve them. Now this doesn’t mean I can just ignore the areas I am uncomfortable with. The lesson however is: understand where you excel, where you don’t and try to put a team around you that is VERY different to you who can fill in the strengths you don’t have.

As I stood on my own at the second residential with the other Fellows playing some active games, we were asked to stand along a scale of 0-5 on what we felt about risk taking. I stood at zero or perhaps 0.1 - the rest of the Fellows stood at least at 3 and many around 5. Previously this difference would have made me feel awful, but that day with the Fellows I felt very important because I realised that this difference could make me invaluable to a team where that trait is not present. It also impresses upon me that in my work life, I need to have people around me who are further up the risk taking scale - if we give ourselves the space to learn from each other, we will be able to pull each other up and down scale to achieve our collective goals.

It may seem like such a small change in perspective as to how I look at myself and others, but it has freed up my mind to embrace what I am good at and stop berating myself for the things I am not. The beauty of Clore Social Leadership is in the diversity of its Fellows. It is all their experiences and skills and life histories that matter. It is the strength found in the difference of where Fellows have worked or currently work, whether grassroots organisations, small and large charities, social enterprises and the private sector. Our difference is how we learn to be better, learn to ally with people that help us to step out of our comfort zones and who challenge us to do more exciting and impactful things for the communities we serve. As the Fellowship moves forward, and new Fellows look to apply for places in 2017, I urge Clore Social Leadership to continue to enable diversity and access to the Fellowship. I finally encourage potential applicants to embrace and bring their difference to the group, because this is the gold dust on which to build success.

Here's a short video of Marie-Louise describing what makes a good leader.

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