Yorkville University Master of Education in Educational Leadership graduate Ian Matheson’s 21-year experience in the military had already equipped him with many examples of effective leadership, but Yorkville’s MEEL allowed him to identify and contextualize different leadership styles, and to articulate and expand on his leadership abilities.
“In all humility, I did feel that I had the ability to be a leader,” said Matheson. “But did I have the skills and knowledge to do it well? No. So I had to develop that through the observation of people I thought were good leaders and people I thought were bad leaders.”
Having been recently interviewed a few weeks prior for the Yorkville University blog, the 51-year old Canadian Military professional was surprised, proud, and humbled to learn of his being named valedictorian. He chalks his success up to passion, tenacity and engagement—and the support of his wife of 23 years, Joanne.
“I don’t consider myself a learned person—a person who grasps things readily,” admitted Matheson. “But when I do something, it is with my heart. Nothing is worth doing unless you do it the best you can.”
Matheson brought this spirit of determination with him, to the Master of Education in Educational Leadership, and not only did he immerse himself fully in the course material, he also found himself engaging regularly with his fellow-classmates—like the skillful leader he has learned to be.
“I don’t know if it’s my background or my makeup, but I found I was having offline email conversations with other students throughout the entire course,” Matheson explained. “If things weren’t going well for them, or they didn’t have the confidence in what they were doing, for some reason other students felt comfortable sharing things with me and getting my feedback, so I [often] had classmates emailing me and asking me my approach, and getting my assistance.”
Among his leadership role models include Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Napoleon (“He did some very good things!” laughed Matheson), as well as several now-retired military officers, whom Matheson describes as having managed to transcend the purely authoritarian leadership style that can sometimes dominate military culture.
“They were able to get people to do things because they wanted to do them, not because they had to. They achieved compliance out of respect, not necessity. If you can get your leadership level to that, you’ve succeeded,” recalled Matheson, of the military leaders who influenced him.
“Taking the Master of Education in Educational Leadership upped my game on critical reflection and a passive approach to leadership rather than the authoritative command approach to leadership that I saw when I was first in the military.”
Matheson has also learned profound lessons about leadership and cooperation from his wife Joanne, whom he credits as his inspiration for completing his MEd.
“She is the reason I’ve done this. She is the epitome of precision and logic. Without her pushing me, I never would have done this,” said Matheson about Joanne, who is an accountant.
“And yet,” Matheson laughed, “We can’t work together. We always have the same goals, but she will approach it from a completely different direction from me. We have learned to work together separately.”
Indeed, an aspect of the MEEL involves identifying one’s own leadership style, and building on existing competencies in addition to learning new leadership strategies. For Matheson, this meant honing his ability to tune into the needs of others, as he has done in his marriage.
“I consider myself a situational leader,” Matheson said. “You have to know the situation, you have to know your people, you have to know your objectives, and you must use your assets as frugally and conservatively as possible so as not to waste them, and to get the most out of people by motivating them. Some people need a softer approach, and for others, you just say ‘this needs to be done’ and they say ‘aye aye’. But knowing your people is how to create buy-in and mindful momentum—that’s how you get things done.”
Matheson will be employing these leadership qualities immediately after the graduation ceremony in Fredericton, as he deploys to the middle east on July 3rd. But in the meantime, he is looking forward to speaking in front of the graduating classes of 2016/2017 for the ceremony in Fredericton, with Joanne looking on.
Ultimately, Matheson feels that one of the most important aspects of success in any position comes down to passion, energy and openness to new information.
“Never Lose your passion. Know when to take time for yourself. Know how much of yourself to give as a leader. Never stop learning from anyone, from anything.”