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UCL Connect: Leading through disruption

2 March 2020

On 5 February, UCL celebrated its near-two centuries of radical, critical thinking with a sold-out event exploring the theme of leadership through disruption.

The all-alumni line-up for the UCL Connect: Disruptive Leadership event

Chaired by Pro Vice-Provost, Student Experience, Professor Deborah Gill (UCL MBBS 1990, UCL EdD Doctor in Education 2013), the audience were treated to a leadership masterclass from the all-UCL alumni panel:

•    Chief Executive of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, Nicola Brentnall MVO (UCL History of Art 1988)
•    Former BBC Deputy Director-General, Anne Bulford OBE (UCL English 1981)
•    Director of BlackRock, Karim Chedid (UCL Urban Economic Development 2010)
•    Honorary Visiting Professor at CASS Business School, Professor Chris Roebuck (UCL Economics and Geography 1977)

How did UCL make you a disruptor?

Each of the panellists paid tribute to the role UCL played in defining their leadership styles. “I remember what it was like walking through those gates for the very first time,” recalled Nicola. “UCL disrupts absolutely everything!”

Chris agreed. “My disruptive thinking started at UCL. When people say you can’t do this or can’t do that – say: ‘well, why not?’ The whole point of disruption is to transform and get to a better place.”

As leaders, how do you deal with conflict management when core values diverge?

Disruptive thinking is always likely to provoke strong reactions, and our panel had useful tips on how to reach a middle ground – or not.

“If you find yourself compromising on the core values that you hold, then you’re in trouble,” said Anne. “If you’ve listened to advice and reached a decision – if you’re authentic and true to yourself in the circumstances – that’s the best you can do.”

“The resolution doesn’t always have to be consensus. It is about having the team culture where your view is valued and you know that sometimes your view will be outnumbered,” emphasised Karim.

What are the risks of disruptive leadership?

With staff wellbeing, mental health and job satisfaction high on the agenda, how do you mitigate the risks of disruption? “It is important to create a workplace where people thrive, which you can do with good leadership,” Chris offered.

For Anne, that means to “lead with honesty, clarity, and authenticity. It is important that you are trying to illustrate things are thought through.”

What role does change management play in disruption?

Any disruptive leader needs to be skilled in the art of change management – though there are subtle differences. “With disruption, there is an element of boldness. We are not just going to go the old way, we are going to try things differently,” stressed Nicola.

“You need to involve people in the process as early as possible - involve them in the new formation of the idea. A disruptive leader is the one who involves their colleagues on the frontline making the wheels turn.”

How do you disrupt in an SME or young business?

Can you bring disruption to a fledgling business? Yes, believes Karim – but do so carefully.

The key thing is discipline and discovering your identity and what your organisations stands for. It is easy to look at other organisations and try to do what they do, but that might not work for you,” he said. “Try to be disciplined in your vision, ideas and the purpose of what you are trying to achieve.”

This event was part of a professional development series designed to combine award-winning networking opportunities, events, workshops and online resources, and was held before social distancing measures were introduced to the UK.

To find out more about UCL’s professional development offering, visit our website. You can also build your UCL network through the Alumni Online Community (AOC), where you will receive exclusive opportunities to share your expertise with current students and fellow alumni.

If you graduated from UCL in the last two years, you can access the New Graduates Network via the AOC or LinkedIn.