David Deegan in conversation with Chris Wallace; a student on the Business and Strategic Leadership (BSL) MSc. When Chris started the programme, along with all of us, at that time he had no idea that his learning would be affected by a global pandemic. David spoke to him recently to ask him about the programme and how the pandemic had affected his progress.
David: “What did you want to get out of the programme?”
Chris: “One of my initial personal goals was to become better at self-reflection. I can readily deal with those daily transactional-type challenges, but I had always struggled with pausing, stepping back and reflecting on what was happening. I knew I needed to do that in order to become a more transformational leader. The arrival of COVID-19 meant that the transactional challenges became even more intense, and it was harder to pause and reflect, but at the same time I recognised that this was a time when transformational leadership was needed. I had to understand myself better, dig deep and find those internal levers that I could pull; all those behaviours that engage and inspire people.”
David: “We encourage students to develop the ability to dig deep, by adopting a practice of reflective journaling, supported by one-to-one coaching. How did you find that process?”
Chris: “It was really hard at first. There is a structure to follow; recording things from the 1st person view, the 2nd person view, and eventually that fly-on-the-wall 3rd person perspective. But the first ones I wrote were very factual, and just followed the structure as a process. I didn’t really open up emotionally as I wrote.”
David: “So what changed?”
Chris: “One night I tore up the 4th journal I had written. It had been about a challenging situation at work but what I had written felt lifeless. I sat down that evening and totally rewrote it. I really dug into what happened and how the situation had felt to me. I wrote without caring what people would think when they read it.”
David: “And what was the feedback from your coach, Janice Gordon?”
Chris: “She was very positive. In every conversation Janice was always pushing me to question myself, and in that 4th journal I did exactly that. The feedback from her wasn’t about what I had written; instead she recognised the complete change in style and applauded me for taking a risk. She has been a fantastic support for me every step of the way.”
David: “And after that 4th journal moment?”
Chris: “I was intrigued to see how journaling enabled me to explore how I could operate differently and experiment. Writing a reflective journal, using 2nd and 3rd person perspectives, as well as being emotionally open, initiated fresh ideas for me, made me think of new questions to ask, recognise what I didn’t know and needed to know.”
David: “It sounds like you enjoyed it?”
Chris: “Hmm, well it isn’t a comfortable experience… For me it was really important to push myself out of my comfort zone. And I wrote about that too. In the past I felt I might have been pigeon-holed in my career. I’ve often stayed in my comfort zone and not challenged myself I knew that I didn’t want to just be a message-deliverer; I wanted to engage people and influence them. By the time I reached my 7th journal I really recognised the ability to elevate the message and be influential, and that I had the opportunity to do so.”
David: “And what do you feel has been the impact?”
Chris: “I have totally re-evaluated how I work. The blinkers have come off my approach, and I have a much better understanding of the bigger picture; that helicopter view. I am more prepared to challenge and push back, and ensure that my voice, and the voices of others, are heard. I recognise that sometimes what I do doesn’t work, and have become ok with that. I am comfortable with stepping back and saying to myself - OK that didn’t work; what could I have done differently?”
David: “Have other people noticed a change in you?”
Chris: “I have had some great feedback, including that I have been fundamental in Swissport’s response to the pandemic, and that I have proactively stepped-up for the team. I received messages of thanks from various stations for guiding them through the tough decisions we have had to make during the last year.”
David: “And finally Chris, for someone embarking on a leadership development programme right now, what advice would you give them?”
Chris: “Firstly, be honest with yourself throughout the reflective journaling process, and don’t just recite the facts as digging deep is what creates the value. It is the moments where you pause and reflect when you discover something different. Writing down your thoughts and discoveries not only captures them for future consideration; it can help translate them into committed actions. Journaling is such a powerful process; and for me, it is now a key part of my personal leadership practice.
Secondly, commit to the learning. Everyone always says, ‘You get out of it what you put in’. This is definitely the case with the journaling process. Dedicate time to reflective learning and be prepared that it’s not always a comfortable experience. . It is easy to think that the pandemic means that learning is just a luxury, but actually I believe this is the right time to be on a development programme.
The MSc programme has helped me to become a more effective leader which has been essential due to the volatile challenges driven by the pandemic. Increased emotional awareness has helped me deal with difficult situations in a more empathetic way. The Cranfield programme has enabled me to make a real difference.
I am grateful to Swissport for enrolling me on this programme. It has been a personal game-changer for me, and I am committed to putting my learning into practice.”
About the authors
David Deegan is an Executive Development Director and Director of Practice Development at Cranfield Executive Development. With over 22 years’ international experience in talent, learning and development across a range of industry sectors up to Board level, he is responsible for the design and delivery of customised executive development interventions delivered in the UK and internationally. View full profile.
Chris Wallace is Head of Planning at Swissport. Chris has a very challenging role, overseeing 26 ground-handling stations, and being ultimately responsible for around 15,000 people. He started the BSL programme in 2019.