Imagine undertaking a twelve-month leadership program with 78 women from 18 countries, culminating in a 22-day expedition to Antarctica!

This was the adventure I stepped into when I joined the Homeward Bound leadership team, as an LSI coach. Homeward Bound is a leadership, strategic and science initiative for women, with the aim to provide women with leadership and strategic capability to strengthen their influence and impact on global environmental policy and decision making. It is a ten-year project, with the goal of creating a cohort of 1,000 women from around the world, working in collaboration to support our planet.

As part of the leadership development component of the program, participants undertake the 360-leadership profile, LSI 1 and 2, and receive a number of coaching sessions prior to the Antarctic voyage. This is a critical part of the program, as participants come to understand their leadership style, their strengths, and opportunities for development. LSI coaches from around Australia provide coaching for participants on a range of issues, including preparing them for the voyage. I was selected to continue the coaching process on the voyage, providing additional support during an intense and challenging three weeks sailing the Southern Ocean.

I have always been passionate about supporting women’s leadership development, both in my corporate and consulting roles, and in the voluntary work I do in the community. The opportunity to support a global cohort of women, to contribute to their development and the important scientific and policy work they do, aligned strongly with my personal purpose and values. It also provided me with the opportunity to review and reflect on my own leadership style, and to focus my practice of authentic leadership in challenging circumstances.

During the course of the three-week voyage, we held workshops on the ship which covered a range of issues from emotional intelligence, peer coaching, and strategic planning, to climate change, visibility, and gender equity. Wherever possible, we adopted a collaborative model of discussion and decision making and, although it is not without its challenges, when everybody gets an equal chance to contribute and have their voice heard, stronger processes and outcomes are the result. Constructive leaders must be prepared to be challenged, to listen to others with an open heart, and to change direction when that is required. We need to make sure that we seek out different points of view, and that we also seek, and provide, support when its needed.

Conducting a leadership program as the floor of the ship pitches and rolls, and whales swim by the windows, is a surreal and incredible experience. We landed every day on Antarctica, walking with penguins, and sitting amongst seals. We visited research stations, where teams of scientists spoke to us about the research that is being done in Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty declares that the purpose of Antarctica is peace and science, and the research being conducted there makes an important contribution to the understanding and future of our planet.

Antarctica is an astonishing part of the world. It is wild and wonderous, and gives you space to reflect on your role in the world. We can all make a difference, whatever our role, and wherever we live.

Lesley-Anne Houghton, Director