When we look back on our time at the UCT GSB, we feel fortunate to have been studying during such an auspicious year in South Africa – the Soccer World Cup 2010. Spirits were high both in the stadiums and on campus. The year was focused and hard work, but also truly a once in a lifetime experience. Twelve years on, it is a privilege to reflect on how the lessons we learnt in LT3 have borne out.
The first few years following graduation can be a whirlwind: the relief of finishing the thesis, the excitement and sense of achievement graduating and the sudden, rather abrupt end to it all. The hunt for a job, perhaps the intensity of consulting, perhaps worrying if you are achieving enough.
It is important not to lose sight of why you embarked on your programme in in the first place. Here are some thoughts on how to connect the dots – to translate the theory into action, to achieve the maximum return for your career:
Take the time to reflect
Those leadership mental models/ gratitude diaries and servant leadership theory? They only become more important with time. Sit back, spend some time looking at the big picture. Are you happy with where you are? What will change in the next five years? If you are a woman, balancing ambition with family commitments can be particularly challenging.
Recognise the benefit of your degree
A postgraduate qualification is impressive because of the level of commitment required and the breadth of subjects covered. Are you doing yourself justice, or have you fallen into old ways of thinking and talking? This is particularly relevant to women, who often talk themselves down in meetings.
Reconnect with your classmates
Whether it’s been a week or three years or longer, the bond between you doesn’t disappear. It is always interesting, refreshing and a safe place to seek out advice, opinions and learn from who is doing what. Be aware that as a leader, you can find yourself isolated – and vulnerable to the friendship of wolves.
Build a diverse 'personal' board of advisors
Classmates, mentors, people from all walks of life, experiences, industries or professions. The perspectives on professional and personal life will continue to accelerate your growth from the Personal Leadership course. Some of the best advice given to me post-graduation was to “work on a problem the business cares about - a mentor taught me to be ‘present’ in practical ways; having a pragmatic approach to delivering an aligned outcome, becoming a great leader through a practical bias to action - learn through doing, reflection and, most importantly, feedback from those you are privileged to lead.
Don't over rely on reading too many leadership think pieces
Maintain a diligent perspective on both career and what you term success. As Toni Morrison said you are the person you are, not the work you do. I often watch this lighthearted but incredibly insightful address from Tim Minchin from the University of Western Australia. I also highly recommend Susan Colantuono’s TED talk, particularly if you are fortunate to be in the privileged position of leading others, and are thinking deeply about setting up your team for future success through honing their business and strategic acumen.
The shape of what you wanted to do may change. Focus on describing or being clear about the things you want to be doing rather than a job title. The opportunities aligned to your values may be in the corner of your eye — just packaged differently or in unexpected ways. This advice on technical leadership and being glue is extremely useful.