Professor Maitlis is well known for her work on sensemaking in organisations as well as crisis and trauma management in the workplace. She focuses especially on qualitative research in cultural and creative industries.
Her unique scope of interests is why I wanted to hear her thoughts. She is perfectly qualified to deliver advice to a group of 300+ students about to go through a period of notable change and growth, as you’ll see in the lightly edited interview below.
Your profile on the Oxford Saïd website talks about the value of self-awareness and introspection to organisational success. In that vein, what skill, mindset, or technique should our class take more pains to learn?
Reflection is a much under-utilised practice in business, and especially critical reflection about the impacts we have on other people, both intended and unintended.
When experiencing an interpersonal difficulty at work, the explanation most people give is that the other person is a jerk. I hear this all the time but it almost always only explains a small part of things, or misses the root cause altogether. So I challenge people to ask themselves, “How would that person (the so-called jerk) describe the problem?” I do this because another thing that most people aren’t quick to do is stand in someone else’s shoes and see a situation from his or her perspective. It always looks different!
So I would challenge the class of 2017 to practice self-reflection and perspective taking, or empathy, this year. It will have a fantastically positive effect on your leadership impact.
Many students in our cohort are drawn to cultural and creative industries, even if we don’t have work experience in those areas. What can we do during our brief time at Oxford to explore a more expressive and creative line of work?
Oxford is a wonderful place to explore your creativity, within your work and beyond! It is full of music, art, theatre, and more – taking place at the university, college, and business school levels. Doing something creative and getting out of your regular headspace is not only a great way to unwind from the demands of MBA life but will also stimulate new ideas and prompt novel connections in your thinking about business and much more. In addition, Oxford Saïd is home to a wonderful initiative, Engaging with the Humanities, in which the synergies between business and the humanities, including literature, history, and music, are richly explored – check it out!
Your Dean’s Seminar last March discussed the nature of a calling. Some of us have clearly identified passions and some are unsure, but all of us will be developing them through our year at Oxford Saïd. What lessons can we learn from your research? What challenges can we expect?
One of the key findings from the research I have done on callings is that the people who best weather the challenges of such work are those who do not over-identify with, or define themselves by, their calling.
Passion for your work is wonderful: it drives you to make things happen and can inspire others to do the same. But when the work becomes the primary way of expressing who you are, it can get in the way of your relationships, productivity, and ultimately lead to burnout.
In my research, the people who follow their calling for the longest time and in the best health are those who embrace the calling not as work that they were born to do, but rather as work that they can master over time by embracing challenges as opportunities to learn, and through collaborative relationships that build a community of practice for those with a shared passion for the cause.
In short, expect lots of challenges when you pursue your calling and approach them with what Carol Dweck, the American educational psychologist, calls a “growth mindset”. Don’t see your calling as a chance to perform, but as an occasion to learn and grow.
The same is true, by the way, for your MBA programme!
Are there any common misconceptions among incoming MBAs that you would like to clear up?
Anyone who doesn’t realise that business is about people, and that the most successful, innovative, and sustainable organisations are those that bring the best out of the people they employ (and not just get the most hours out of them) has a lot to learn about leadership – which hopefully they will this year!
Thank you, Professor Maitlis! Can’t wait to meet you in person as we kick off our MBA Launch in almost a week.
Thanks for these great questions, Sagar, and for your initiative in setting up this blog. I look forward to getting to know you and your classmates in the coming months.Back to top of article