Learnings from Homeward Bound and Antarctica
I have returned from the ice continent where snow, ice, water and wildlife cohabit. With another 98 women with a STEMM background, I have returned from the Homeward Bound leadership program where we have learnt about a new leadership style – that includes trust, collaborations, inclusion and legacy. I have lived 21 intense days and it will take me several weeks to reflect on my learnings. Homeward Bound is only the beginning of my leadership journey, which started in Antarctica …
Becoming better leaders
We were coached by a team of twelve faculty members, including the co-founder of Homeward Bound Fabian Dattner (expert in corporate leadership), our ‘elder’ Musimbi Kanyoro (CEO and president the Global Fund for Women), alumna of HomewardBound and experts in science communication, visibility, strategy, and Antarctica scientists.
These amazing and inspiring ladies taught us about leadership in a holistic way. They equipped us with skills for new ways of leading, based on trust and authenticity. The whole program spread across 15 months online, 3 days on the ground in Ushuaia, and 18 days on a ship. I summarise here my key learnings, that will undoubtedly deepen with more time and reflection.
Vision and story telling
Great leaders share their vision, and their vision start by telling their authentic story. Day after day, we unravelled our personal stories and how they defined us as STEMM leaders. We identified our core values, and ensured our aspirations were in congruence with our values, both at the personal and professional levels. We questioned our purpose in life: What will be our legacy when we depart, as individuals, as women, and as leaders?
Visibility and vulnerability
Great leaders are visible to inspire others. Since the beginning of our enrolment in the program 15 months ago, we practiced different tools to increase our visibility, with always a specific goal and a clear message in mind. We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and emotionally exposed. We learnt to welcome ‘failure’ as a learning step.
Knowing ourselves better
We learnt about the stories we tell ourselves, that hinder our ability to self-actualise, that is, to meet our full leadership potential. We identified our reactions triggered by aggressive, defensive, or passive styles (needless to say there were a few painful deep dives for that part!).
Working collaboratively and constructively
We learnt how to navigate through tough conversations at work and at home, encourage solution-focused interactions that allow others to grow. We learnt how to built strong and productive collaborations with people with diverse set of skills and intrinsic qualities.
Leadership for the greater good
From Homeward Bound I am taking home several core values: inclusion and open-mindedness, legacy and collaboration. We need diversity to collectively head in the right direction, where different opinions can be heard. We need leaders with a legacy mindset to ensure our next generations will not suffer from the damages of our past generations. The scientific diversity and talent we shared amongst us was astonishing and humbling. I strongly believe that such group of 99 strong women can achieve so many greater things together than each of us individually.
Antarctica as a faculty member
We considered Antarctica as our thirteenth faculty member because it taught us so much.
The fragility of our planet
Our children nowadays suffer from climate anxiety. They worry about the future state of our environment. I do too, every day, and I have done so for many years. I have felt helpless about how we treat and destroy our planet. The day when I set foot on ice and looked around, the spellbinding beauty, the purity and the vastness of Antarctica hit me. Although almost untouched by humans, the effects of climate change were obvious to our naked eyes. Glaciers are melting at a very fast rate, oceans are warming and species are becoming endangered. Before I embarked on this journey I was defeatist about what we could do, as a selfish human species. Our science talks, the energy and the vision we shared on the ship brought me new optimism. I now believe that together, and with better leaders, we can act for our planet.
Peace, science and collaboration
The Antarctic Treaty signed in Dec 1st 1959 now includes 54 parties and preserves Antarctica for peace and science . Antarctica does not belong to anyone. It is the site for scientific discoveries and cutting-edge science. We visited two research stations, that open their doors to researchers from various parts of the world, in a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration, despite the harsh environment.
The grandeur of Antarctica
Antarctica represents the last wilderness on Earth and the Antarctic treaty attempts to preserve wildlife as much as possible . The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) aims to advocate the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to this region. During our expedition we discussed the effect of the fisheries on the biodiversity of Antarctica. Krill and toothfish are heavily fished, despite their crucial role in the ecology of the ocean. If do no nothing, we will have to say good-bye to penguins, whales and their predators (orca, leopard seals), and welcome an overpopulation of other species (toothfish preys). All together this will dramatically unbalance the whole planet’s ecosystem.
Our commitment as Ambassadors of Antarctica
Antarctica is threatened by global warming, resulting in loss of sea ice and land-based ice, fishing and invasive species. It needs protection, because Antarctica has a profound impact on the entire Earth’s climate and ocean systems. On the ship we have started discussing potential avenues to open awareness of the coast and oceans community of practice for sustainable fisheries, and how to influence the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR). After experiencing the magic of Antarctica, our commitment is stronger than before.
The experience of Homeward Bound in Antarctica
In the past 15 months, we and others have often asked the question: ‘But why Antarctica?‘ I found the answers by asking instead: ‘Could we do Homeward Bound without Antarctica? Could we do without a faculty member?‘ The answer is no.
A fast-learning environment for better impact
Whether on a ship or on the Antarctic peninsula, we were at the mercy of the weather, the ice, not our rigid calendars. We learnt how to adapt quickly, and sometimes revise the agenda several times on the same day. Eighteen days on a ship provided a full immersion program, where the confined space deepened our bonding. The backdrop of Antarctica provided us with constant awe and gratitude, and opportunities to reflect about our next journeys as leaders. Together we established a safe and supportive environment were we allowed to be ourselves and thus learn better.
Our common goal, as Homeward Bound sisters, is to raise awareness of the issues of inclusion, diversity, science and climate change and act upon it. Without Antarctica, Homeward Bound may not have been visible enough to our outsider supporters. Mentioning the word ‘Antarctica‘ picked their interest, because it refers to a magic place almost free of human imprints – the end of the world, indeed.
The vulnerability of Antarctica urges us to act now, and strategically. The visits to the research stations deepened our belief that collaboration for a greater good is possible, even in the toughest conditions. All researchers we met had the same common goal to study and protect Antarctica, and thus Earth’s whole ecosystem . This expedition provided a learning of a lifetime that none of us will ever forget. This is only the beginning of our leadership journey where us, STEMMists will work collaboratively to save the planet.
I profusely thank my sponsors, colleagues and friends who contributed to the funding of this incredible, unique and holistic leadership program. It warms my heart everyday to know that you have got my back, and believe in me. I am grateful to the doors that Homeward Bound has opened to me. Such leadership programs can make a profound impact on how we lead in this world, with authenticity, integrity, courage, for our current and future generations.
If you have the opportunity to support budding leaders, by any means do so. Leadership is a long and windy path that requires an enthusiastic cheer squad to prevail.