Leadership team weaves cohort connections

June 5, 2017
L-R: Heather Kelly, Erin Dixon and Laura Wright, aka the Weavers, of the first Master of Arts in Global Leadership graduating cohort

Creative solutions are often found in moments of deep listening. For three recent graduates of the Master of Arts in Global Leadership (MAGL) program, a willingness to pause and reflect in the early days of their program spawned a ground-breaking approach to sharing knowledge among teams in their cohort group.

Erin Dixon recalls coming together at the first MAGL residency two years ago. “We were asked to assign ourselves to one of two groups,” she says. “I was interested in both groups’ areas of focus: creating scholarship and the environmental program. Instead of choosing, I needed to step back and take a look at what I was being called to do.”

Dixon was soon joined by Heather Kelly and Laura Wright, who shared her interest in finding a way to balance their individual development with the broader needs of the groups. Their request to faculty for time to assess the situation was met with an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

“The bones of the program are about deep reflection and finding a sense of self,” says School of Leadership Assistant Prof. Cheryl Heykoop, “The aim is then to apply this understanding in different ways: self with other and self with systems.”

The group’s vision and values reflected MAGL’s key features of global leadership. “The questions we asked ourselves were, ‘Can we create an in-between space that supports cooperation and interconnection?’” says Wright. “And, ‘How can we ensure the value of the process?’”

They emerged with a new role to transfer knowledge between the two teams by uniting the community. “We were called the Weavers because we wove the groups together by following threads that facilitated connection,” says Dixon.

The Weavers’ aim was to fulfill the goals of the two teams. They met with each group— online and in person—to listen to how they could contribute and support. “We worked in a behind-the-scenes supportive role,” says Kelly. “It challenged conventions of out-front, top-down leadership and offered a different experience.”

Using the information they gathered, the Weavers shared knowledge across, back and through the silos to guide the future planning and direction of the whole.

“They were like hummingbirds, popping from one group to the next, transplanting ideas,” says Heykoop. “This cross-fertilization of ideas is what it takes to truly be a leader.”

Wright, a child protection specialist with Right to Play International, initially enrolled in the MAGL program looking for ways to apply leadership processes to young people and to engage adults who work with young people. She credits the Weaver experience with strengthening her ability to support relationships. “In my global role working with steering committees, I integrate the role of the weaver by hosting on-line learning webinars, sharing across teams and coordinating working groups, “she says. “It’s important to connect people and know how to learn from one another.”

Dixon, an Indigenous awareness trainer for the Ontario Provincial Police, finds she now has more courage in both her private and professional lives. “The role of the weaver came alive during our residency and moved into my daily life from consulting nations in co-creating initiatives, to developing community networks,” she says. “I learned to step into a process and listen deeply to what I’m being called to do.”

For Kelly, a journalism instructor at Humber College in Ontario, her Royal Roads experience gave her permission to look at leadership in a different way. “In a practical sense, I learned that it can be a shared experience,” she says. “I’ve recently worked on a new curriculum at Humber and incorporated some of the knowledge that MAGL instructors modelled.”

Even though they’ve completed their courses, all three alumnae continue to reinforce their Weaver values. They host a quarterly Skype circle for their MAGL community and facilitate the sharing of photos and attending events together. “It’s beautiful to collaborate and to keep supporting each other,” says Wright. “These linkages are important in life. Leadership is all about relationships.”

Besides innovating a new role between cohorts, the Weavers’ experience marks two other Royal Roads University firsts. They are members of the first graduating cohort of the MAGL program, launched in 2015. As well, the three will collectively receive the Founder’s Award normally awarded to one student in each graduating cohort at the university’s convocation ceremonies June 13. This is the first time the award has recognized a team’s achievement, with acknowledgement of the Weavers’ combined efforts to weave threads of connection and communication across the whole cohort.

“The Weavers took things in their own direction,” says Heykoop. “That’s where the magic happens.”