Leadership Academy: Learning in a challenging context
Leadership Academy at LUSEM is a leadership programme for students at Lund University based on the idea that students in leading positions can learn, both from each other, but also from experienced leadership researchers and business managers. The training equips young leaders for the challenges that a management position often entails.
Nadja Sörgärde and Christine Blomquist are teachers and researchers in business administration at LUSEM, specialised in organisation and leadership. They are also teachers at Leadership Academy. Many students apply every year for this popular programme developed for – and only open to – Lund University students that are currently working full-time in different students organisations.
In a challenging context
The students at Leadership Academy are young and, as a natural consequence of young age, with little or no experience of leadership. The challenges they are facing are similar to those of more experienced managers but the students lack examples to relate to. Nadja explains:
"The students can feel more alone in their new role, especially when they come across problems. They can feel that they should solve every conflict and deal with all difficulties in a professional way. A more experienced leader has probably a broader repertoire of previous experiences to relate to and also find comfort in."
The students at Leadership Academy are ambitious and motivated. When they end up at the programme they have already been selected as leaders by the members of a student union or a nation and they want to live up to the expectations:
"They don’t want to make mistakes or fail. Usually, they have really high demands on themselves. Their challenge is similar to that of other managers; there are a lot of demands and they want to please people in order to do a good job", Christine says.
She also sees special challenges in this student-to-student management role:
“To teach students to lead their fellow students and friends is a special kind of leadership teaching and as always – when it comes to leadership – these students have to define what role they want to have as leaders. Their role can get unclear since they often are both friends with and leader of the people in their organisation".
Debunking myths about leadership
Nadja and Christine try to debunk the myths about great leaders in order to help the students to find their own way to lead and to become more self-confident. It is easy to get trapped in some kind of notion of a leader and try to play a part that isn’t right.
“We want to dispel the myth of a leader as a superhero, who has the answer and solution to every problem. There are no simple recipes for how to be or behave as a leader. Instead, we aim for increasing the participants' understanding of themselves, the position they are in and the challenges they are facing,” Nadja says.
Stimulating reflections and insights are vital in leadership training. Nadja explains:
”We form sessions around a number of managerial challenges that the participants experience in their roles. We try to stimulate in-depth reflections and insights by introducing some leadership models and tools as well as facilitating the discussions in various ways. The tools can be used by the students as techniques to generate ideas, for problem-solving and to support others.”
Christine has experienced how eager the students are to find the right answers but the fact is that the subject of leadership is characterised by the lack of a single correct answer to a question. There is not only one answer, there are many. The young leaders have to find their own way, to reflect and to find their values about leadership. Otherwise, the leaders can get drowned by all the demands and by the various perceptions about leadership.
At the beginning of the programme, Nadja and Christine try to find out what the particular student group wants. Depending on their different organisations and needs, the participants can have different ideas. They might be interested in listening to a special guest lecturer or have thoughts about the content of coaching sessions.
“We start out by asking them what they would like to learn about leadership and what themes that are relevant for them. We try to adjust the programme to their needs. One recurrent question is for example 'What is good leadership?'. They really want to understand that,” Christine says.
An unusually good example of cooperation
Leadership Academy is a very interesting programme to teach and it is a good example of University-wide cooperation, according to Christine and Nadja:
“We really like teaching at this programme not at least because there is an extensive and fruitful collaboration between the faculty, Nordea, the LUSEM Partnership foundation and the union LundaEkonomerna. This is simply an unusually good example of cooperation at Lund University, especially since students from all faculties can apply,” Nadja says and Christine agrees.
The students at the programme get to decide, or at least wish for, what guest lectures they want. To meet experienced leaders from for example Nordea and listen to their lessons, tips and advice are worth a lot. The programme also contains possibilities to get mentorship at Nordea and to do job shadowing. Within a few months, about 20 students will have a more solid base and be better equipped, not only for the ongoing work in a student organisation at Lund University but also for future leadership-related challenges.