Women Leaders from Sweden and the United Arab Emirates
May 20th -23rd 2012 marked the start of Women Leadership Exchange Program – an international leadership program for women managers.
During four days of beautiful spring weather, 19 women managers from Sweden and from the United Arab Emirates, gathered in Klippan, Sweden, for the first of two modules.
In January of 2013, the green of the Swedish spring will give way for the wast sand dunes of Dubai, location of the second module in the program.
Program direction. From the left: Johanna Steen (MiL Institute), Maria Delmar (MiL Institute) and Maja Rottbøll (W4SG)
This pilot project, focusing on empowering women leaders from Sweden and the United Arab Emirates to build a sustainable leadership practice, is the first ever co-operation between MiL Institute, Women for Sustainable Growth (W4SG) and Dubai Women Establishment (DWE).
Leadership Development for Women Leaders
In its structure this leadership development program is not that different from the usual leadership programs at MiL Institute.
What sets it apart is the international target group and the joint ethos and focus of the three organizing institutions on promoting women leaders to be instigators of sustainable development. Building change from the inside out.
A Sustainable Leadership Practice
During a period of 8 months the participants will work on establishing a Sustainable Leadership Practice.
On a personal level this means exploring one’s the inner purpose, gaining self- knowledge, brokering the much sought after balance in life and gaining a greater understanding of one’s individual challenges and strenghts as a leader. In many ways this entails coming to terms with the ideal image one might have of what a good leader does, in favour of building on the resourses and capablities one has as part of one’s particular personal and organizational context.
Meet the present without compromising the future
On an organizational level, a sustainable leadership practice, means to explore and develop ways of furthering participation and innovation, to lead change,while still maintaining relationships and securing a communication and a participation that don’t crumble under the pressure to achieve results. To find a way of leading that allows for the organization to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.
One key aspect of maintaining a sustainable leadership practice is to be part of a community and a network of peers that challenge and support you, having places, persons and relationships that can serve as resources and inspiration in your work. Therefore this holds a special focus in the Women Leadership Exchange Program, and is achieved through the network of women leaders participating as well as by the know-how and the communities of the organizing institutions.
Delegation meeting Carina Tempel, Executive Director, Fosie District Council, Malmö City.
From the left: Maryam Majid Bin Theneya, Noaf Tahlak, Carina Tempel, Hessa Tahlak, Dr. Aisha Bu Smait, Sultana Saif
Meeting Women Managers in Leading Positions
In the spirit of building a network of women leaders, the participants also met with women managers in leading positions within different organizations such as Malmö Stad, Tetra Pak, E.ON Nordic and Lund University.
What makes a successful pilot project?
The concept of "pilot projects" indicates a test run, a trial, with the clear and expressed purpose of learning for future projects. It is a concept that I appreciate greatly. Maybe more projects should be pilots or at least embrace the "learning" core of the pilot in order to keep the co-creative, experimental and learning aspects of leadership development alive.
Something we learnt immediately, through the great response evoked in both regions when we announced the Women Leadership Exchange Program to the world, was that it is an important and sought after initiative.
As we went public with our search for 12 managers based in Sweden and 12 managers based in the UAE, within the hour, we had people expressing their eagerness to participate.
In the end we ended up with 7 managers from Sweden and 12 from the UAE. While the short notice - two months before the start of the program - drew down the number of participants from Sweden (full calendars and budget issues), the opposite was true for the Emirati participants, this even though the recruitment process in Dubai did not start until the beginning of May.
Program Direction: Erin Frazier (W4SG)
Half time lessons of a successful start
Regardless of whether it pertains to pilot projects or other endeavors, the crucial aspect of learning lies in the act to stop and reflect on the experience, which sometimes means to learn some rather hard lessons from mistakes and failures.
The issue of there being a minority of Swedish managers might not have been ideal but it was a great cause for reflection. What happens when you are in minority and majority and what does it do to you? The parallels to being a woman in leading position in a male dominated organization was not that far away. Also, the differences between the regions in regards to planning practices and the concept of time, also became something to talk about and learn from.
What happens when you leave your safe haven
Another great opportunity for learning presented itself when the participants, due to company visits early in the morning of May 23rd, left the secure and peaceful haven of Borgen at MiLgårdarna for the busy city life of Malmö. The chock and the contrast left many of us overwhelmed and a little disoriented, the bus ride from Klippan to Malmö, proving not to be enough time to prepare for the onslaught of impressions, sounds and people, not enough time to make sense of the powerful experience of sharing and opening up during the time spent in Klippan.
From that, there are two lessons to learn – be aware of what happens when you change location in the middle of a module (it might be good to consider staying at the first location) and make sure to continue making mistakes to learn from.
The setting of the program should not be so perfectly constructed that it becomes a parallel universe, completely foreign to, and cut off from, the reality of life and the real life issues and challenges. By that I mean that having a safe haven can be important in order to be able to experiment and learn. Too far off from everyday conditions and circumstances may however make the transition and the treashold for turning insights (in the program) into action (back home) too steep.
How to turn new found insights into sustainable action
To me, this ”mistake" in design, though painful at the time, turned out to be one of the most important and real moments in the program with an obvious parallel to what happens to many participants when they return home from a similar experience and meet the reality of life again. Experiencing the disorientation of coming to Malmö, raised the questions of:
- How to make sense of what you have been through?
- How to hold on to new found insights in the busy life of everyday work and how to turn insights into changed behavior?
- How to communicate what you've learnt to those in your surroundings?
I think it proved to be one of the most important insights- the need to hold on when returning home, to be aware of the thin skin and the sensibility that comes from the experience.
The second, most important lesson for me that I hope to integrate in the next module, is therefore to make sure there is room for mistakes and unplanned events to influence the program and to have ample room and space to reflect on those occurences with the participants, so we can learn from them.
Next time in Dubai
Looking ahead, if the first module mostly focused on how to lead yourself, the second module in January 2013 will to a greater extent focus on how to lead others, to lead change and how to promote the development of sustainable communities of practice.
I look forward to new insights and lessons from this pilot project and I invite those of you that are curious to know more about the Women Leadership Exchange Program initiative, or have other questions or thoughts to share, to contact me.
Johanna Steen, MiL Institute