9 insights into leadership from Professor Dame Sandra Dawson

Tennie Videler (26 November 2011)

The evening was organised by Cambridge Businesswomen’s Network and Cambridge AWiSE, the association for women in science and engineering in Cambridge, which I take active part in.

Professor Dame Sandra Dawson is a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, professor of Management Studies at Judge Business School (which she pretty much founded and led for 10 years), and was the first female Master of Sidney Sussex College. She has previously worked in the civil service and as a researcher, lecturer and professor at Imperial College. She is now non-executive director of the UK Financial Services Authority as well as Oxfam.

So did she have any insights into leadership? There were plenty, but here are my favourite 9….

1.      Do things that really interests you and you are really good at. Adore what you do while you’re doing it and adore not doing it when you’ve stopped

2.      You don’t need a strict a plan to stick to but take opportunities that come along

3.      A lot of decision making and getting things to happen come through committees and boards- learn how these work by joining smaller ones, such as local charities or sports clubs (or research staff associations and committees in your institution)

4.      Don’t get too ‘tram-tracked’- explore the relationships and interfaces between subjects (although Sandra acknowledges academics these days need to ‘tunnel’ their interests while they get established because of the overriding importance attached to REF, publications etc, which she thought was a shame as she had enjoyed an ‘eclectic’ start to her research career)

5.      Difficult things, like saying ‘no’, become easier after you’ve done them a few times

6.      Gravitas is something that can be learned and comes with experience

7.      Get mentors, however informally. As senior people can be scared off by the time commitment involved in mentoring someone, ask someone you admire for a defined number of meetings, say two or three and make the most of these, rather than an open ended supportive relationship

8.      Always assume a solution can be found and work to find it

9.      Sandra is passionate about embracing diversity as it brings different views round a table and gets people to ask questions that really matter.

Has anyone else heard inspirational speakers recently and fancy sharing their insights?