I didn’t know much about the small country of Malta before the warm Mediterranean air swept past me as I exited my EasyJet plane from Edinburgh. I had set out on a week-long sustainable leadership conference with JCI (Junior Chambers International) Scotland, Malta, Estonia, Ireland, and Romania. The sun was high in the sky and my red hair and fair skin was in for a treat, a red treat that is. But it felt like home. The sea only a fingers length away reminded me of summers in Charleston. I had already fallen in love with Malta. But I had to remember I wasn’t just there for the sand and surf.  

The JCI Scotland team, made up of Katie, Emma and I made our way via taxi to a seminary on the top of a hill in Rabat. It was a large building, housing religious affairs, conferences, and overnight guests. Our rooms although private were unfortunately without central AC. An instant reminder of my formative years when AC was a luxury my family couldn’t afford. But no bother, I would shower and sprawl out in my birthday suit with my one fan to cool off each night.  

The first day of the leadership conference was a whirlwind. Maybe it was the fact that I had been in lockdown with little to no socialisation since March 2020, but you couldn’t have slapped the smile off my face as I entered the training room full of people. Even mentioning the word ice breaker games I’m sure would make you cringe and want to hide in a corner, but the games we played were fun and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of people trust each other so quickly. A strength of a leader is vulnerability. When to be vulnerable? To whom to be vulnerable? This group was willing to step outside of themselves and meet each other on an even plain. I knew right then that although I had experience being a leader through running a business and obtaining my master’s in Arts Management, I would still learn something new this week in Malta.  

As much fun as the activities had been so far, our judgement would soon be tested. “Your employee fails to complete a task and set your team behind, who’s responsible? Is it the employee, it is you?” The room was divided and the debating had begun. Everyone who attended came from a different background. Some IT, some management, some retail, and more. A good leader knows communication is only effective if you listen. The nuances of leadership were being discussed and questioned throughout the room.  

In between talks on “What makes a leader?” and “What are Smart goals?”, we delved into the local cuisine. The food was wonderful but I believe the company was even better. Each meal our small group of 20 would share stories, cultural traditions and teach a word or two in another language. The training was 8 hours a day so most nights the stories got a bit wilder and the sound of show tunes wouldn’t be too far off after a few drinks.  

My strategy was to consume just enough drinks so I would still be able to function the next day. A good leader is strategic. Jokes aside, strategic thinking was one of the main goals of the conference. Since my time in JCI had so far been limited, around 4 months then, the strategic vision was less apparent. As we went through exercises on strategic thinking, I was able to take a step back and envision what I would like to see for JCI Edinburgh and myself as a board member.  

Personally, I know it’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day without applying strategic initiatives or reflection. The step back, the pause, is important. It can allow you time to re-evaluate goals, make new ones, pivot entirely, or advance your knowledge. We took time to create sustainable goals that our chapter can put into action this year.  

Action is another essential leadership characteristic. Action must be taken and although sometimes we might fail, we can become more educated and deliberate in our actions. All my life I have worked for non-profit organisations whose actions have positively impacted communities. This serves my purpose in life and I won’t have it any other way. For me, joining JCI for their community building work was a no brainer. After attending the leadership conference hosted by JCI Malta and Erasmus I realized that JCI is larger than just my local community, it’s a bridge to other communities across the globe that I now have the ability to visit and learn from as a JCI member.  

It’s an astonishing feat to bring 20 strangers together, for them to share knowledge and insights, and to then leave as friends. As cliché as it sounds, I was changed by my experience in Malta. I entered with my brain as open as my eyes and I absorbed new cultures, new leadership skills, new sights and smells. I left with a better sense of myself and a better understanding of how JCI can make a difference in Edinburgh. It was a light bulb moment. I won’t forget Malta or the people I met there. I hope to see them at another conference in the near future. A good leader is self-aware and prioritises personal development.

Thank you JCI Malta, Erasmus and JCI Scotland for making this experience possible and for making me a better leader. 

Courtney Bates

JCI Edinburgh, Events Director