Authors Reflection on their learning experiences

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This text is a reflection of the learning experiences of the author, particularly with regard to the learning experience of the MBA full time programme. The primary objective is to reflect on the learning experiences and to identify how the Knowledge levels, skills, attitudes, perceptions and values were altered during the process. In an essence it is an attempt to capture the learning experience in to a formal structure, which at times has been informal, at sub-conscious levels and haphazard.

The reflections of the learning experiences will lead to an evaluation of the individual's current status in all aspects relating managerial effectiveness, which will in-turn, facilitate the identification and prioritisation of personal development needs. The end result is a concise, specific, and measurable and time bound personal development plan.

Initially the theory and importance of reflection in personal development is reviewed, which is followed by the reflections on several key learning experiences. The next phase of the report is a critical evaluation of the different leadership styles, which will include an exploration of the historical origins and evolution of different leadership styles. The third phase is an attempt to bridge the reflections on learning experiences and evaluation of leadership styles, deriving a personal development plan to enhance managerial effectiveness.

2.0 Importance of reflection

A layman's definition of reflection would be to ponder about a past activity or series of activities, for an example a mother might think about how she does the weekly shopping for her family. As far as the academic context is concerned, the approach towards reflection is based on commonsense, Moon (2006 p37) provides a commonsense view on reflection as "Reflection is a form of mental processing-like a form of thinking-that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome or we may be simply be reflective and then an outcome can be unexpected".

However reflection has a deeper meaning in an educational context than the mundane activity that the commonsense based view suggests. In the education and academic context reflection has an overriding purpose and directed towards a specific outcome. Moon (2006 P37) extends the commonsense based view as "Reflection/reflective learning or reflective writing in the academic context is also likely to involve a conscious and stated purpose for the reflection, with an outcome specified in terms of learning action or clarification". In this case the outcome is the personal development plan.

The benefits of reflections are clear; it provides a structure for the haphazard process of learning facilitates the evaluation and provides directions for further development. Reflections aides the uncovering and dispelling of deep lying misconceptions and helps the transfer of skills, for example the reflecting on the activity of doing the weekly shopping may help in maintaining stocks in small grocery or restaurants.

3.0 MBA Learning Journey

The MBA programme provides a wider spectrum of learning experiences, from class room sessions to enhance theoretical knowledge to real consultancy opportunities, aimed at enhancing the managerial effectiveness. The journey so far has taken me through many different learning experiences. However it seems that the ideal starting point for the reflection process is the self, or the exploration of self awareness.

3.1 Self Awareness-Know Thyself

In layman's definition for self awareness is knowing one's self, however Williams points out that self-awareness includes many aspects "Key areas of self-awareness include our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions and psychological needs that drive our behaviours" (Self-awareness and personal development: Online) . Self awareness is the foundation of personal development and managerial effectiveness.

I considered myself to be very self-aware. I strongly believed that I had an accurate picture of myself, being very clear on my strengths, considered myself to be an analytical, logical, emotionally mature and prided on my communication and presentation skills. I never considered myself to be creative, a part from that I always struggled to identify my weaknesses. The only other weakness that propped out in my head time and time again was the poor time management. I believe in equality and fairness, strongly favour meritocracy and have non-negotiable key values.

However it was at the applied learning experiences (ALEs) of the MBA programme that I first had the opportunity to test my level of self awareness through several models and practice.

3.2 The Applied Learning Experience (ALE)

The first applied learning experience of the MBA programme was held in a location in Ware, Hertfordshire. The first activity of the programme was to fill a questionnaire designed to identify the each participant's role in Belbin's Theory.

3.2.1 Belbin's Team Roles- the Monitor Evaluator

Meredith Belbin's team role provides a framework to analyses one's position within a team. The results of the questionnaire stated that I will be a Monitor Evaluator in a team. Belbin (1981 cited in Mullins, 2007, p332) states that the monitor evaluators are "Sober strategic and discerning, sees all options, judges accurately, the allowable weaknesses are "lacks drive and ability to inspire others (Belbin, 1981 cited in Mullins, 2007, p332). Initially this evaluation seemed to fit well with my sense of self-awareness and I was eager to play my role within the teams maximising my strength and being conscious about my weaknesses.

The programme consisted of five main activities, out which in one my team was very successful, partly success full in one and failed miserably in three activities. Each activity was followed by a feedback session allowing the participants to reflect on the successes and failures of each activity. The initial reflections seemed to validate my understanding of my role as a monitor evaluator, I played my strengths well and failed to mitigate my weakness, or that's how it seemed. I tried to learn from the mistakes in one activity and play a better role in the next. However the next activity demanded an entirely different mindset and I couldn't help feeling frustrated, cheated and even stupid at times.

In the final feedback session I was shocked to be perceived by the other team members as "Creative, comes out with out of the box solutions, not clear in communication and at times unenthusiastic". This was somewhat a bitter pill to swallow, particularly because I prided in my communication skills. However I delivered the final presentation on behalf of our team. Using Obama style rapid question and answer techniques (fired up? ready to go?) managed to energize the audience and end with emphasising the importance of self awareness.

Though the feedback seemed misconceived at that point, reflection helped me to deduce the pieces of the puzzle. I'm good in articulating a point to a willing and listening audience, however fails and loose enthusiasm when challenged or when it seems the others are uninterested in my opinion. For an example one of the tasks demand a high sense of mathematical temperament usually found among physics students and software code writers, I had a plan which included the delegation of specific tasks to particular members whom I thought had the required skills, however I failed to persuade others and the task ended up in failure.

The reflections on ALEs helped me to gain a more accurate understanding of myself, and propelled persuading skills and time management on to the top of my development need.

3.3 MBTI Model

Myers -Briggs Type indicator (MBTI) is another model which I used during the learning journey of MBA. It is developed by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers in 1920's, it's used as "a self -report instrument that guides individuals in knowing about themselves" (Handout, Nov 2009). My MBTI position was ENFP which indicates that the person is extrovert, daring and development oriented, a position common among entrepreneurs. The corresponding role in Belbin's nine team roles is the Plant. This was a shocking revelation for me since I thought I was the complete opposite of an entrepreneur. However in retrospect it made me think deeper on creativity, and altered my view on my own creativity.

3.4 Creativity- Myths Dispelled

During the learning journey of the MBA, I had the opportunity to analyse my own creativity through several questionnaire designed to assess an individual's creativity and compare the logical and creative aspects of one's thinking. Though I always seemed to be more of a logical person I scored above my own expectations on creativity. This led me to reflect deeply on my own level of creativity, and helped me to uncover and dispel a misconception which was deeply rooted in me. I primarily considered creativity, as artistic creativity, this narrow view created a mental block and I perceived myself as less creative. However Mullins (2007 P192) states that "creativity is the application of imaginative thought which results in innovative solutions to many problems". The video on IDEO Company, an American firm specialising in new product development altered my view on creativity; on reflection the company seems to have a fairly logical and structured approach towards creativity, though at first it may not be very apparent.

These experiences broaden my horizons on creativity and thereby my development needs.

3.5 Learning Styles- Reflector

As far as the learning styles are concerned I'm a reflector, however reflecting on learning styles lead to a clearer understanding of experimental learning. I developed IT skills primarily through experimental learning. The reflection and understanding helped me to overcome many mental barriers like fear of failure, which prevents us from experimenting with things and learning from the experience.

3.6 MBA- Alumni Evenings

I view these events as an opportunity for networking. After every such event I reflect on the event to gather the learning or other benefits gained. However the list rarely goes beyond inspiration with hardly any progress in the networking aspect, which has the potential to facilitate mentoring. Thus enhancing networking skills is a personal development priority.

3.7 Life and Career Planning

Naylor (2004 cited in Mullins, 2007, P720) explains life and career planning as "people are encouraged to develop and express personal goals with strategies for integrating goals with those of the organisation". The life and career planning is referred to as a technique, in the wider context of organizational development.

I always wanted to be a knowledge worker or a specialist, my ideal career was to be a market researcher specialising in qualitative research. However the due to circumstances I embarked on a career in totally different sector. At first the prospects seemed promising, but my career and life priorities were in conflict with my role, thus what once seemed as a career gradually evolved to a job. Thus integrating personal goals with the career didn't seem to be an option.

Hence the route to career life planning or career life congruence seems to be to enhance skills and knowledge through education and to re-align the career with life priorities. The MBA learning journey has broadened my horizons and the personal development activities are ultimately directed at the career-life priorities.

4.0 Leadership

The list of definitions of leadership is very long, however Mullins (2007 P363) captures the essence of leadership "is a relationship through which one person influence the behaviour of other people". The emphasis on relationship and influence is important. This means that the leadership is inseparably linked to the group or team concerned.

The leadership may occur at different contexts for example in organizational, national or global contexts. It may occur at different levels not necessarily at the top of a hierarchy thus Belbin (1997, cited in Mullins, 2007, P363) states "there is clear implication that leadership is not part of the job but a quality that can be brought to a job" Useem's(2001 ed, Pickford. J, Cited in Mullins, 2007, P363) view of leadership is "Leadership is at its best when the vision is strategic, the voice persuasive and the results tangible" Useem (2001 ed, Pickford. J, Cited in Mullins, 2007, P363) sees leadership as primarily a matter of making a difference.

As Military strategy influenced the early thoughts on business strategy, historically leadership was influenced by the command and control structure of the military. However many leadership styles have evolved since, the following table captures the key characteristics of the three main styles of leadership.

Leadership Style

Characteristics

Autocratic Style

Power and the decision making authority lies with the manager, thus every aspect of the relationships with subordinates centres around the manger

Democratic Style

A shared leadership style, Manager is part of the group or team; subordinates can influence the decision making.

Laissez-Faire(Genuine)

Style

Subordinates have complete freedom; The manager intervenes only on a necessary basis. This shouldn't be mistaken with poor leadership, where managers simply don't care

The appropriateness of each leadership style depends on many factors. The leadership style adopted may depend on the situation. For instance in a crisis situation an experienced leader with autocratic style may be more suitable over a democratic style of leadership, in order to facilitate better and quicker decision making. On the other hand democratic style is more common among project teams and professionals, while autocratic leadership is more prevalent where there is a wide gap between the knowledge, skills and experience of superior and subordinates. The leadership style adopted is highly influenced by the nature of the business and the organizational culture, for instance militaries around the world adopts autocratic leadership style due to special nature of such institutions.

4.1 Leadership and Management

Modern view on leadership is moved away from command and control and emphasis more on inspiring others. This has resulted in the blurring of lines of division between leadership and management. Mullins supports this view (2007,p 363).

If leadership is more about inspiring others, it demands a specific set of skills, which enhances the ability to inspire and is an essential ingredient in a development plan aimed at increasing managerial effectiveness.

My experiences in the MBA learning journey, particularly with relation to group work and previous work experiences make me believe that sound communication and listening skills are of paramount importance. Listening skills are important to link the disconnected pieces of information or opinions brought in by different members of a team.

5.0 Personal Development Plan

The reflections on the MBA learning journey and exploration on different leadership styles was an attempt to identify my own development needs to enhance managerial effectiveness thereby influence the development of others.

As part of the human enterprise module of the MBA, I had the opportunity to carry out a skills audit on myself. The skills audit itself a tool for identifying development needs, by grading one's perceived level in variety of skills.

The skills audit, reflections on MBA Learning journey and the review of leadership styles have presented me with a wide array of development areas. However it is practically concentrate on a large number of skills, without compromising on the quality and depth. Thus I have used Brian Mclvor's Priority Grid to prioritise my development needs.

Brian Mclvor's Priority Grid provides a framework to compare the importance of ten different skills (or development needs) against each other. The skills are compared on a grid against each other and the more important one is circled, finally the skills are ranked according to the score (or number of circles) (Please refer Appendix 1 for the part A and B of the format)

When comparing the skills I have considered the relevance of each skill to my career targets and the opportunities for improvement during the MBA Programme. The following table depicts my immediate development needs and the way forward.

Skill/ Development area

Current State

Desired State

Way Forward

Communication

Good when unchallenged

More persuasive,

Good under all conditions

Practise before presentations

Paraphrasing, in verbal communication

Learning from good communicators

Analytical

Takes time to understand the core issue

To be in a position to understand key elements of an issue quickly

Doing more case studies, Focused thinking

Listening

Lose interest, sometimes hears only what wants to be heard

Effective listening, hearing what people really say,

Try to prevent from being distracted

Giving undivided attention

Providing feedback, and refraining from interrupting

Planning

Unrealistic planning, poor implementation

Realistic plans, better implementation

Revisiting plans to drop unimportant elements, to make it more realistic

Moving on to implementation at appropriate time

Frequent evaluation

Time management

Just on Time, struggle with deadlines, source of stress

Procrastinate things

More effective time management

Minimise procrastination

Activity log to identify situations of ineffective time management

Detailed to do lists

Understanding reasons for postponing,

Personal targets, and rewarding for achievement

Networking

Rarely goes beyond the initial superficial stage

Networking as a effective personal learning tool

Participating in more networking events

Being more prepared, background study

Learning to build rapport quicker,

The learning journey of MBA taught me that personal development isn't an isolated process, its journey that relies on feedback from other. Feedbacks lead to reflections which help to continuously improve the journey. Though formal feedback from all angles (like in a 360 degree feedback process) isn't practical in this case, I would make efforts to receive informal feedbacks, at minimum on the progress.

6.0 Conclusion

I have critically reflected on my MBA learning Journey, focusing more on weaknesses that needs improvements. Being one's own harshest critic is infinitely beneficial than being the biggest fan. The outcome of the process is the development plan aimed at enhancing management effectiveness. The success of the plan depends on the implementation and feedback from others.

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