I recently had the opportunity to be part of the Rhodes team that facilitated a leadership workshop for the 2nd cohort of Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. I had the chance to explore Beijing and its attractions prior to the workshop but it was the rich conversations surrounding the facilitation sessions that I really held on to; I had a chance to hear stories from other Rhodes Scholars about their life experiences and these were perhaps the most deep and open conversations that I’ve ever had in the Rhodes community.
The purely organic conversations were so refreshing because it brought together a mix of intergenerational perspectives in a space that was far-removed from the Oxford context. There was no agenda or discussion forum, just Rhodes Scholars sitting and talking about life and reminiscing. These interactions inspired me to think more critically about my time as a Rhodes Scholar and what it has meant, means, and will mean to be thought of as a leader under the Scholarship programme.
This also comes in the face of history’s stereotypical images that characterise leadership as being either male, white, individualistic, top-down, or some combination of these for example. But given the prestige of the Rhodes Scholarship, it is no surprise that I, like many other Rhodes Scholars, have to confront many leadership stereotypes like those above as benchmarks for success let alone leadership success specifically.
In that regard, conceptualising leadership comes at the cross-roads of one’s own internal recognition of what is leadership, that of their associated institutions, and what the public celebrates and acknowledges as leadership. So as I have been contemplating more and more this notion of leadership and what it would mean to be a good leader, I see the need for redefining leadership. However here are just three of the more intriguing reflections that I took away from my time in Beijing in addition to my luggage, passport, and a souvenir or two.
Thoughts: There’s a conventional dichotomy between leaders and followers, but what about the space between both. As a Rhodes Scholar, leadership is a concept that seems to be naturally associated with one’s identity and I’m sure that many see Rhodes Scholars as automatic future world leaders.
Reflection: But should I be a leader?
Thoughts: Taking up certain positions of leadership may eventually raise internal conflicts within oneself. I think these conflicts can often put being true to oneself and what one believes in up against what is expected or required in the position.
Reflection: So what does being an authentic leader mean?
Thoughts: Leaders are often portrayed as outgoing, confident, distinguished, decorated, and even able to articulate themselves flawlessly. But not all leaders fit this ‘golden image’ and many often feel like they don’t fit in and are imposters. I wonder if the imposter syndrome can often make one turn down positions of leadership or limit their true leadership ability because of fear, low self-confidence, or because they harbor feelings unworthiness.
Reflection: How severe is my imposter syndrome, and to what extent does it impact my ability to exercise my true leadership ability?
This piece is dedicated to the Rhodes facilitation team- thanks for being such an amazing group!
Kiron Neale (Commonwealth Caribbean & Linacre 2013) is a 4th year Rhodes Scholar (about to enter his 5th year), and DPhil student at Linacre College. He’s currently researching the mainstreaming of residential solar energy in small, tropical islands at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. Kiron is specifically interested in the potential interactions between policy and culture in the mainstreaming process for residential solar energy, and does his work in the islands of Trinidad and Barbados in the Caribbean and Oahu in the Pacific. Kiron also holds an MSc. in Environmental Change and Management from Oxford, and is a graduate of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.
Photo Credit: Jason from Great Wall Hiking
Description: Me looking at the Coiling Dragon and Crouching Tiger vista of Great Wall at Gubeikou.