Joanna's Leadership Academy Experience

No one can call himself a leader unless there is someone who follows, neither can one do that unless one knows the direction one’s is heading in.

When I came to the EY Leadership Academy in the spring 2015, I had just been elected President of one of the largest societies at the University of St Andrews. Hence, I had a committee of enthusiastic, competent and smart people under my supervision. With my previous leadership experience, which included leading a school charity group, being a prefect and setting up drama groups, I thought I knew a lot about turning a group of people into a devoted team in order to achieve a common goal.

This time however the task that stood before me has been at a much bigger scale. The society required a fundamental change, also in the way it was run, and although it seemed to me I had all the components, I quickly realized that there’s a lot more needed than an overall plan, experience and a group, ready to help. With this in mind, I took part to the EY Leadership Academy. In all honesty I can say that those four intense days have taught me more than a few years in terms of leadership and beyond.

First of all, my expectations have been exceeded by the reality of the experience. We all know that one person whom we encounter from time to time at university – they are ambitious, driven, full of ideas and extremely passionate about something that they devote their whole time to. That one person that always inspire us to eventually motivate ourselves too. Imagine walking into a room of over thirty people, smiling, smart and friendly. All of them just as motivated (and motivating!), but each in his or her own way. Such a mixture itself gives one a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other, exchange experiences and create friendships that last. I have to admit, the selection process have been made very carefully, since the participants were from all sorts of backgrounds, nationalities and interests.

The structure of each day followed a similar pattern: workshops made up of theoretical and practical sessions (all based on group work which allowed complete strangers to get to know each other very well in only 4 days) lasted until late afternoon and were followed by a different informal event every evening. For example a drinks reception, drumming session or a dinner with a Partner and employees from EY, all of them located in the stunning scenery, gave us all a possibility to get to know more about each other but also to familiarize ourselves with EY and its culture and ask a lot of questions – although it is worth mentioning that the focus of the Academy was on personal development of each of us, rather than on EY.

Each group of six people had a facilitator, who observed us, helped and guided throughout the process. At the end of the day a one to one coaching session gave everyone the opportunity to chat about their personal impressions and progress and get invaluable feedback. I cannot be more thankful to my facilitator for all the comments she made and the support she gave me as I continued to challenge myself during the workshops.

Things that I did not expect:

Firstly, how friendly everyone was!

The power of reflection – try that, all you need is a pen or a piece of paper and a few minutes to reflect in the end of the day or after a finished task – be it a success or a failure, reflection can change every experience into a valuable lesson.

Lastly, I never expected how much I can achieve and improve in such a short amount of time; it was only four days! I joined the programme as not the most confident person in the world, sometimes rather willing to listen patiently rather than take a seat in the front row or raise my hand first.

The Leadership Academy allowed me to understand my strengths and find a way to put them into action in real life situations, which is what has completely changed my attitude to leadership.

We have practiced being a leader both in business-related situations and abstract group exercises, outdoors and indoors. Now, as I use all I have learned and try to develop it even further, while fulfilling my role as Society President at university, the change that I knew it needs but that I was unsure how to bring, is taking place.

If you asked me whether it’s worth applying and taking part in the Leadership Academy, the answer would be an unconditional yes! It’s not something everyone would enjoy, but if you’re not afraid of a challenge and an experience that will completely change the way you see things – give it a go. And if for whatever reason you would afterwards disagree with me – reflect.

To find out more about Leadership Academy go here