When an email inviting me to deliver a session for the annual Student Leaders Conference at the University of Liverpool arrived in my inbox my automatic response was “yes”.

What a great opportunity it would be to speak with young people at the start of their career journeys and offer some words of wisdom that I would have found helpful at the same time in my life.

Those who know me well know that I don’t do ‘complicated’ and I know students well enough to know that they don’t either.

In our time together I posed them 2 simple questions to reflect on and discuss. 

  1. “What does leadership mean to you?” 
  2. “What are the attributes that in your opinion make a great leader?”

For most of my early career, I struggled with understanding the leadership word. It was something that my voice of self-doubt assured me that I didn’t need to worry about. It’s what other people did and certainly not a young girl with a few O-levels!

At 16 I had stepped up to run a household and look after my dad and younger brother after the sudden death of my mum. It was tough but it was my normal.

At that time my female role models defined success as getting a job in an office, getting married and having babies. It wasn’t a definition of success that I found terribly appealing so when I reached my early thirties, I got myself a new definition. This time adopting one that felt a lot more like me, taking an entrepreneurial approach to my professional life.

A friend once told me she always admired the way I lived my life flying by the seat of my pants. I took that as a great compliment.

So, going back to the students and my two questions.

Their answers were inspiring… having empathy, being kind, speaking up, peace, communicating well, being ok to get it wrong, being myself, being honest, passionate, brave, enthusiastic, authentic, asking for help, always learning and just basically don’t be afraid to take a risk and have a go. There was just as much value in quiet leadership and listening to others. It was not about being loud and standing at the front of the room telling everyone what to do.

For me, leadership is an inside job. Regardless of who we are, what our background is or the circumstances we find ourselves in, there is a leader in all of us. A leader looking for opportunities to live a full life with purpose and who can use even gentle moments to make a difference in the world.

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