Leadership traits that can change the course of the world

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Ashley Wright is writing a DPhil in politics. This year, alongside her course, she decided to apply to join the GLI. Even with everything being moved online because of Covid, she’s so glad she’s taken this journey. As GLI approaches its final weeks, here’s how Ashley describes its impact on her in a conversation with Dr Roger Revell.

Roger: Given that you’ve been involved in other sorts of leadership development courses, how would you say the GLI is distinct?

Ashley: The course readings are absolutely thought-provoking. And fresh, at least to me. I’m a big reader yet, except for one of the texts, I don’t think I’ve ever come across the selections you’ve curated for us. So, I’m really appreciative of this, and especially for the selection of poems.

I would also say that the conversations we’ve had in our cohort have been rich and highly instructive. They were places in which it was okay to disagree and even debate, but the tone was always civil and even gracious. They were instances where my life experience was vicariously broadened as others opened up about their fascinating, sometimes sad and often amazing, life stories.

Another distinct aspect of the GLI, at least as I experienced it, is that it doesn’t leave you with neat and tidy conclusions. Instead, I’ve often come away from the discussions or talks with a lot of unresolved issues in mind. Through this, I’ve learned to be more comfortable being in this kind of ‘uncomfortable’ space. I think I’ve become more patient, too.

Roger: How has the GLI shaped your ideas, your vision, about what it means to lead well?

Ashley: Well, there are a couple of things to say about this. First, I think now more than ever, I believe that true leaders don’t have to be people who take charge, who actively seize opportunities, who always exude tremendous confidence. Instead, I think that true leadership, or responsible leadership as the OCP puts it, centres on possessing certain sorts of character traits. Traits that we don’t always associate with our leaders, like empathy, humility, and gratitude. These traits can change the course of the world.

I would also say (and here I have the reading by Courtney Martin in mind) that good leadership entails making space for others to excel and lead. More to the point, it’s about ceasing to act like you have to do everything that lines up with what you happen to be good at doing. An effective leader can invite others to do things that they themselves might be good at, and not feel threatened.

Roger: How do you think the GLI will benefit your career?

Ashley: I don’t exactly know what my career will entail, maybe working in an academic context or perhaps in the policy world. In either case, I’ll be working with others. And anytime you’re working with others, character matters greatly. Why? Because trust is crucial. Because egoism can ruin collaborative undertakings. Because a lack of humility can cut off your access to the insights needed for breakthroughs. These sorts of lessons, and many others, have been driven home in the GLI. And thank goodness they have!