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This week, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Athena Program, a women’s leadership workshop led by the inspirational Sandra Lee and hosted by Allstate Northern Ireland and Women In Tech.
Named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, justice, strength, strategy, and skill — it is the perfect name for a program aimed to ignite the powerful leader within each of us.
The day commenced with a simple yet profound question: “When do you feel your most powerful?” As we went around the room sharing our responses, a sense of excitement and camaraderie filled the air. For me, true power emerges when I have the support of a trusted team, where ideas flow freely, and judgment is left at the door. It was a moment of connection as we discovered our shared experiences and realised the similarities between us all.
We then delved deeper into “When do we feel our least powerful”, here we began to discuss our vulnerabilities and explored our triggers in uncomfortable situations. A lot of us could draw from the example of public speaking, which causes us all to experience an array of physical responses like sweating, trembling, and stumbling over words.
After discussing physical triggers in uncomfortable situations, we moved on to “Changing your mind set” and for this we practiced the power pose!
If you are unfamiliar with it, the power pose technique introduced by Amy Cuddy, in which people assume a posture that they associate with being powerful. For me, this really highlighted the effect body language can have on your mindset. When I feel my most powerless, I tend to have a more closed off stance e.g. legs crossed, arms folded overall taking up as little space as possible.
With adopting expansive postures that take up space and exude openness, we tap into our inner strength and project a sense of authority. The power pose serves as a physical manifestation of the resilience and determination within us and reminds us that our bodies and minds are interconnected.
During our exploration of what makes a powerful leader, one main theme emerged, Emotional Intelligence (EI), which is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions, in ourselves and others and it is a fundamental trait in a great leader.
A leader with emotional intelligence is able to cultivate strong relationships, foster trust, and inspire their team. A key part of emotional intelligence is self-awareness and the impact of our actions.
When discussing emotional intelligence, we talked about how to handle difficult situations, through self regulation. Focusing on the ability to manage and control emotions, impulses, and behavior’s in these situations by being able to identify the trigger and make an informed response. Through self-regulation, we learn to navigate challenging situations with composure.
Another key topic covered during the workshop, was limiting beliefs! It’s hard to not have limiting beliefs, I often struggle with feelings of impostor syndrome and self-doubt, fearing that I am not knowledgeable enough in a particular subject or topic. However, as we shared these sentiments with one another, I was amazed to find that many of the accomplished, confident women in the room experienced similar thoughts. It was a transformative moment when I realised that, if I could offer advice and encouragement to others, I must also apply it to myself.
In this session we really got to understand why we have these beliefs and the question that resonated deeply with me was, “Who would I be without this belief?”. Personally, for me, I know if I didn’t have these thoughts, I would be more confident and more willing to put myself forward for new challenges and opportunities.
Prior to the program, Sandra sent us out a series of questions to answer in order to find out what type of leader we are. The different types ranged from commanding and pace-setting to visionary, affiliative, diplomat, and coaching.
As I reflected on my highest style — democratic— I discovered its strengths and limitations. While diplomacy fosters collaboration and harmony, it is essential to question whether it arises from a genuine desire to involve others or from indecisiveness. Understanding our leadership style enables us to play to our strengths while consciously addressing areas for growth and development.
As a group we have identified that something we all struggle with are situation’s when you need to challenge something — how can you do it without sounding aggressive?
A significant lesson I took away from the workshop was the distinction between aggression and assertion. We all face situations where we need to challenge ideas or advocate for ourselves, but doing so without coming across as aggressive can be a delicate balance. By cultivating assertiveness, we can express our thoughts and needs confidently while maintaining respect and openness to different perspectives.
The day ended with the powerfulness of story telling through a poignant exercise — sharing our “who-am-I” stories. In a safe and supportive environment created by Sandra, we bared our adversities, the hurdles we overcame, and our proudest moments. It was an emotional experience, one that left us feeling connected and empowered. This really highlighted to me the importance of sharing stories in order to make deeper connections and really understand one another. This was such a powerful way to finish the session and left me feel connected to everyone in the room
This is just some of the highlights of the program, but we covered so much more! Overall, this workshop was incredible, I have learnt so much about myself, my values, my goals and my communication styles. In terms of my current role as a Senior Software Engineer at Hamilton Robson, I can see that leveraging emotional intelligence, can help me cultivate stronger relationships with my colleagues, stakeholders, and team members. I can clearly see how these valuable insights I have learnt from this program can elevate my effectiveness as a leader, foster a positive and collaborative work environment, and drive the success of both individual team members and the organisation as a whole.
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