LINDA Buckley is guided by two driving passions: to make sure that learning truly lands and that women can learn to stand in their own truth. The Head of Learning Experience at Henley Business School Africa, and in charge of executive education.
“My dream is that learning is properly digested, seeping into your pores as if by osmosis so that you can start practising it, without even being aware that you are.”
She is a huge advocate for continuous education, a natural fit given Henley Africa’s unique ladder of learning that allows business leaders who might never had had the chance to attend a tertiary institution, earn while they learn, able to complete accredited programmes that lead all the way from certificate to degree, postgraduate diploma and finally the Master of Business Administration.
Buckley practices what she preaches, graduating last year with distinction from Henley Business School at the University of Reading in the UK, with an MA in Leadership – a degree which has no equivalent in South Africa.
“What was interesting about getting a master’s qualification later in life was that I could marry so many of the lessons I’ve learned over the years as a leader to some of the theories that were being shown us. It allowed me to think about my leadership practice, in a very intense and meaningful way and immediately start thinking about how it could be applied to an African context.”
The journey encouraged her to press on with her mission to empower women leaders in business in particular, and in life in general – especially women who might feel limited by self-imposed feelings of inadequacy especially in male dominated and patriarchal environments.
“A big dream of mine has been to pass on the lessons I’ve learnt, that in some ways were quite hard, to others who might be struggling with exactly the same things. If they can find a way past a particular problem without having to feel alone or make the same mistakes, they are immediately on a different footing.”
An empath with a very strong sense of social justice, she worked as second assistant to Archbishop-emeritus Desmond Tutu during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“I remember Tutu telling me that if women were leaders there wouldn’t be wars,” she muses, “and when you think of how the world has fared during the COVID 19 pandemic, it has been women leaders who seem to have led the best.”
Jacinda Ardern, she says, is a case in point, caring and connected yet with a steely resolve to see her mission through.
“My master’s thesis was on empathetic leadership and how it allows you to empower your teams to improve their performance by bringing out the best in them. Ardern is definitive in what she does, but she leads with empathy.
“COVID 19 has shown us that what we need most of all is the human connection – especially in our leaders. I have a real love for people, I believe in people and in the power of one. I want to help people strip away the assumptions about themselves that hold them back. I want to be the conduit to open up that potential and unleash it in as many as I can.
“It’s a profound skill to stand firm in your own vulnerability. If you can do that, you’re unstoppable. We’re seeing that more and more.”
For Henley Africa dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley, Buckley is a living breathing ambassador of what the business school set out to achieve.
“When we started our journey 10 years ago, we didn’t have an executive education programme at all, today that component is more than 60% of a business school that now provides 60% of Henley’s global executive MBA class. The transformation doesn’t end there, two thirds of our MBA students are black African, 40% of our MBA students are female, 60% of our executive education is female,” he says.
Today Henley Business School Africa is a leading global business school with campuses in Europe, Asia and Africa. It holds elite triple international accreditation; has the number 1 business school alumni network in the world for potential to network (Economist 2017); and is the number 1 African-accredited and -campused business school in the world for executive education (FT 2018, 2020), as well as the number 1 MBA business school in South Africa as rated by corporate SA (PMR.Africa 2018, 2019, 2020).
“We’ve got here by listening, by caring, by looking to unlock the potential of our students who are competing with and regularly beating their peers in the UK, Europe and Asia,” says Foster-Pedley, “and in Linda we have an academic who has actually studied this phenomenon while being an empathetic leader herself who as a result of exactly that is today the person in charge of our executive learning programmes at our business school.”