Maisie Linford, MA Media and Broadcast Production student joined our Future-Ready Skills for Leaders Global Leadership Programme in Toronto. Here are her ten takeaways.
I was among the 25 QUB students across all subjects from first year to PhD who travelled to Toronto for the Global Leadership Programme (now Future-Skills for Leaders: Go Global). We explored the city, networked with businesses and pitched a smart solution on return to Belfast.
Toronto is known as the city of Immigrants. Over 50% of the cities residents are born outside of Canada. Being such a diverse city means that it’s also open to change and as the site for Alphabet’s proposed first Smart city it was the perfect place for us to learn about leadership and smart city solutions. I can’t cover everything in one post, but here are the top 10 things I learned on the programme.
Lesson 1: How to use Design Thinking
Our learning actually began well before we’d even arrived in Toronto, with intensive training on Design Thinking. We were put into teams with people who thought differently based on personality tests and given the challenge ‘How might Smart Cities solve 21st Century problems?’ Using all of the phases of design thinking we found real problems facing Belfast and devised a concept that would use new technology to find a solution.
Lesson 2 : What makes a Smart City
On our first day of business meetings in Toronto we went to the Sidewalk labs office to learn from legal, policy, strategy and outreach professionals at the Alphabet company. We got a real sense of what Sidewalk Labs wants to achieve in creating a smart city in Toronto and the role design thinking played in coming up with smart solutions. They also shared how they’re dealing with media challenges around data and privacy and the strategy for getting approval from the council.
Lesson 3: Diversity of thought is important
City of Toronto officials gave us an insight into their strategy on smart cities. The representatives emphasised the importance of diversity of thought in public planning and commended the group on the range of ideas we shared with them. It was really interesting to gain both sides of the perspective on city planning from a private and public policy perspective.
Lesson 4: There are lots of ways to be a strong leader
We continued to develop our smart city solutions and learned about the ways AI can influence business strategy, gaining further insight into the different strategies to being a strong leader from Brian McKenna, Linda Blair and Raman Rai, who shared the different approaches to leadership. This session completely changed my understanding of business strategy and leadership, making me feel more confident about the corporate environment and the different ways you can show leadership. I feel more knowledgeable and open to different career paths thanks to the insights shared.
Lesson 5: Leaders need to keep learning
We learned more about how Artificial Intelligence works at Element AI, who shared that although AI is a significant market force it’s not too late to learn and get involved. If you are studying French, Computer Science or Media Production (like me) it’s worthwhile to learn more about how AI works and is changing all industries. We continued to develop our smart solutions, thinking more specifically about the ways artificial intelligence could and is being used.
Lesson 6 : Leaders should listen
John Speers, Managing Director at Bank of Montreal gave us a crash course on how financial services work and an insight into the trading floor. His key lesson was that leaders need to be able to listen. In finance that may be listening to what is happening with the markets, what your manager or your client needs. This works across all sectors, the better we are at listening the more effective we will be.
Lesson 7: Networking is another place to learn
At networking events I met people working in all sectors in Toronto including programming, the Toronto Film Festival, EY and diplomats. This wasn’t just a way to get business cards. It was a chance to meet new people who could give insight into leadership, business and innovation. I also got to know the other people on the Global Leadership Programme and fellow young leaders from Canada who were starting their own social enterprises and could share their experience.
Lesson 8: Do what you love, where you belong
David Walmsley, Editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail explained the importance of finding the right fit for you. He always knew he wanted to be a journalist, but it took a while before he found an organisation that was a perfect fit. He shared the importance of liking the people that you work with. I was most looking forward to this visit, as my course specialises in broadcast journalism but was most engaged by the interest of students from other disciplines; such as astrophysics that could challenge David on the changing media landscape and role of AI in the future of journalism, which makes finding a place you belong to as a journalist all the more important.
Lesson 9: How to pitch an idea
Returning to Belfast we continued to refine a smart city solution and honed our respective pitches, which we delivered to an expert panel at Ormeau Baths, Belfast’s innovation hub. In my team we had developed an app that could connect homeless charities in Belfast and be uploaded onto the new pulse smart hubs. I was nervous during the pitch but tried to stay focused and got positive feedback so feel more confident pitching in the future. The response we had has led to continued conversations with EY on making these projects a reality and continuing to be involved with conversations at home that shape Belfast as a smart city.
Lesson 10: Leaders support each other
The greatest lesson is from all the fellow global leaders on the programme. Whether they were studying law, medicine, business management or computer science everyone in this talented group changed my way of thinking about leadership. It’s not a matter of being the loudest or most confident person in the room. By being open to all of these lessons, leaders in our own field and supporting each other we learned how to be leaders. I have made great friends on this trip with people I would never normally come into contact with and I look forward to seeing the great things they all achieve in the future.
Find out more about the programme go.qub.ac.uk/careersprogrammes