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The value of self-discovery for leaders

By Wayne Smithson CMgr FIML


After a 40-year career at senior finance positions and having studied in some form for most of that time, I didn’t think I needed to learn anything about my leadership style.

So, when I was asked to consider becoming a Chartered Manager, I thought that this would be a relatively easy and quick process – a first misconception. I also thought that in my position as program director, there would not be any real obvious benefits for either myself or the organisation – my second misconception.


A journey of self-reflection

When I commenced the process of becoming chartered, I thought that leadership, a complex and well-covered academic topic, really comes down to experiences and self-anecdotal evidence.

However, these anecdotes and experiences are only valuable if they are intentionally recalled and put into practice. There’s no point assuming that the skills can be stored and accessed on demand.

The process appeared simple. Although in my current role, some of the leadership questions in the submission did not seem relevant at first glance.


Reflecting on the reality of one’s unique role

As a program director for the Bachelor of Accounting program for Universal Business School Sydney, I didn’t realise that the current business model I work within called for a different approach to leadership. Call it a transitional contingency approach to leadership if you will.

As with many private higher education providers and universities, the business model involves the tensions created by contractual employment. It can be called a “sessional” workforce, with ongoing employment determined by the demand for the subjects being offered.

This factor alone presents several unusual leadership challenges, not the least is developing and implementing a coherent business unit plan.

By comparison, this would have been a more manageable task had I applied my experiences in a commercial context which mostly meant management of permanent staff. However, with some critical thought, the contingent nature of my leadership role became evident.


The value of self-reflection

So what were the benefits for me?

The combination of my written reflection document and the probing questions were the catalysts for leadership self-discovery. It revealed my leadership style and attributes that I apply in my daily management and leadership role.

The three main benefits of self-reflection include learning about:

  • The known – the affirmation of leadership skills of which I was consciously aware and practised well.
  • The unknown – identification of in leadership skills in which were weak and requiring more attention and focus.
  • The unknown unknowns – highlighting leadership traits of which I was not aware I was employing.


Of these, the last two were the real eye-openers concerning my role, with the potential to ultimately benefit my team’s effectiveness.

Overall this exercise alone heightened my leadership awareness and intensity, in particular, the “contingent” nature of the leadership skills I have applied in my role.

Identifying where I could improve the application of those skills, however, was eye-opening. Identifying the skills I was employing and was not consciously aware was the big win.

I have now taken these learnings forward in the workplace and generally reflect across the areas of focus required to be a leader.


What are the benefits for the organisation?

Although, from an organisational perspective, the benefits can be somewhat intangible, all management and leadership training results typically in a positive cascading effect throughout all levels of the organisation.

Arguably the potential organisational benefits relate specifically to:

  • Highly effective team management
  • Improved team focus and direction
  • Greater productivity


I recommend the Chartered Manager program to all those in the academic field, not just for the internationally recognised accreditation, but also for the self-discovery in leadership that it provides. It’s an excellent opportunity for leadership awareness and practical course correction.


Wayne Smithson is Program Director of the Bachelor of Business Program at Universal Business School Sydney (UBSS). He is a Fellow of IML ANZ and a Chartered Manager.


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