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Nicole Brown: Life after leadership

Nicole Brown: Life after leadership

Leadership is part of who you are

In her second article for Leading Change, Queen’s Young Leader Nicole Brown reflects on the nature of leadership and leaders.

You never stop being a leader. If you are passionate about leadership at our age or younger, that forms a facet of you for the rest of your life. I argue that leadership is something that can be taught, but it can also be who you are. 

Something I have realised over the past month is that I will never stop striving to be a leader. I will never lose my passion for making a difference and helping others realise their potential.

Although I have titled this article, “Life after leadership”, only 30 days have passed since stepping down from the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Robogals Global.

However, over this past month I have learnt so much about myself, about the importance of leadership to me but most importantly about how I had become self-defined by my position.

When stepping down from the position, I knew I needed a clean break – not for me but for the incoming CEO.  Remaining in the organisation, my presence may have hindered her confidence in stepping up and making necessary changes. Having experienced others in my organisation change positions as we expanded operations, I have seen first-hand the impact it has on both the incoming person and the person changing roles.

For the outgoing person, it is a case of growing accustomed to things operating in the same way. When someone does things differently, you are inclined to say “We have tried that before, it didn’t work well” or something similar.

This causes the incoming person to feel limited in the new position and therefore question their instincts.

Signs saying "Change Ahead"

Image credit: Amman Wahab Nizamani

Changing role

Stepping away completely provides the new person with confidence in their own judgement and ensures the outgoing person has a sense of closure, knowing that their successor is competent.

In saying this, I strongly encourage a structured handover process to ensure confidence is achieved from both parties.  

Stepping down, I simply became an alumna and lifetime supporter of the organisation and now hold no official position. However I am available if Ami asks for any assistance and support.

What this meant for me is that, for the first time in four years, I did not have volunteer work to complete. I did not hold accountability and responsibility for a global organisation – for finances, for volunteer wellbeing, for legal structure and the overall strategy of the global body.

I did not have to be checking my emails four or five times a day and constantly worrying or thinking about how we could improve different aspects of the organisation or what we needed to do the following day or week or month.

Defining yourself

These realisations overwhelmed me when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.

My heart was racing, my eyes filled with tears and my vision went fuzzy. Even as I am writing this, a month later my heart is tightening as I think back to that moment.

For the past four years at networking events, I had always introduced myself as “Nicole Brown, the CEO of Robogals Global”. I realised how much I had self-defined my life by Robogals, and by my position in the organisation.

However, the coming of midnight also made me think back to a night months before when we were reviewing the applications for the new CEO. At that point, I'd been questioning who I would be when I was no longer the CEO. Thankfully I was introduced to Viv Benjamin, the previous CEO of Oaktree, and she reassured me that what I was experiencing was completely normal. She had been through the exact same emotions and questioned the exact same things I was questioning.

Station platform notice saying "Mind the gap"

Image credit: Andrew Martin on Pixabay

Separating the role from the self

Viv’s main piece of advice to me back in August, 2016, had been to set “an important goal to separate ‘role’ from ‘self’.”

To achieve this goal, I completed a series of exercises which looked at personal values, reflected on major and minor decisions I had made over the past few months to analyse why I felt strongly about a certain position.

I also considered the discussions I had been involved with fellow Queen’s Young Leader alumna, Alicia Wallace and Dr Karen Salt with relation to mapping cultural, political, and personal geography. These activities allowed me to learn more about myself and how I truly am.

For the confidence required to come to this realisation, I have to thank not only Viv Benjamin and the other mentors in my life, but also the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme.

I am no longer, “Nicole Brown- CEO”,  but I am still, and will always be, “Nicole Brown, leader”.

Read Nicole Brown: Lessons in leading and leaving

Read Nicole Brown: The Queen’s Young Leaders’ community and beyond