Homeward Bound: Recipe for a transformative leadership program (Sam Grover)

Photo by Sam Grover

Collect 76 highly motivated women scientists from all over the world, 8 talented teaching faculty, a few dozen humpback whales, and a couple of hundred thousand penguins.

Mix together in a small ship in Antarctic waters for 20 days. Stir thoroughly, agitate regularly, shake occasionally. Dip regularly into the icy waters all around. The mixture will separate, sometimes disintegrate then, with careful tending, reform into something new, something truly transformative.

The Homeward Bound alumni are courageous, newly equipped with the vision and tools to enable them to make a difference to the world.

I was lucky enough to participate in the inaugural Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica in December 2016. I arrived in Ushuaia at the end of November, jetlagged but excited, anticipating gruelling seasickness, stunning landscapes and empowering leadership and strategy training. Homeward Bound exceeded all of my expectations.

This was a truly transformative leadership program. The insights and connections forged during the 20 days at sea will support me to grow and develop as a leader and scientist for the rest of my career.
After a few shaky days finding our sea legs (mine were more wobbly than most), we began the leadership content by considering who we are and why we lead.

We chose our top 10 values from out of a stack of a few hundred possible options. Who knew there were so many to choose from?! Three diagnostics around learning styles, emotional intelligence and self-development formed the basis of the leadership training. We all became very familiar with 4MAT, MSCIET and LSI over the next week, drilling down into our preferences, motivations and behaviours. This was new territory for many scientists, challenging stuff. We were supported with small group work and individual counselling sessions, and it was all framed within the overarching goal of enabling us to be more effective leaders.

Daily landings chock full of stunning scenery, abundant wildlife who appeared quite indifferent to our presence and ample opportunities for tobogganing and snowball fights were a welcome break from the intense learning. This on-land time allowed us to reflect and strengthen connections in an awe-inspiring environment. With the long days of Antarctic summer, we often had after-dinner landings or zodiac cruises. Did the sun ever set? I certainly never saw it happen!

Photo by Sam Grover
After leadership, came visibility. In order to make a difference, who do we need to be visible to? I came to this section of the content with some scepticism, some resistance.

Not a natural social media user, my preconception was that “visibility” equated to a large Twitter following. My soil science research is not particularly tweetable and, juggling research and a young family, ample time for engaging with social media just doesn’t make it into my tight schedule. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find the visibility content very useful and applicable to my research and aspirations. I want my soils research to inform policy and practise around land use. I identified who I need to become more visible to, and how to go about making this happen. Twitter didn’t feature!

Photo by Sam Grover
Whales! The teaching faculty came to dread this call, as we would all jump up and run out on deck. However fascinating the content, the call of the whales was just too strong. Their presence just a few tens of meters from the ship was somehow incredibly calming. No-one was immune to the serenity that these graceful creatures seemed to emanate. Juxtaposed with the macabre remains of the whaling stations we visited, humanity’s reliance on whale oil and near extinction of these peaceful creatures appeared as a strange nightmare from our past.

Many Homeward Bound alumni want to ensure that the remains of the fossil fuel oil industry appear as a similar historical hiccup to future generations.

Strategy: how do we get from here to there? With a strategy map. Aspire, explain, measure what we aim to achieve and how. The third component of the course content made a lot of sense to me and I have used my Personal Strategy Map back home already.

Photo by Sam Grover
As our days grew numbered, we went out of our way to develop potential collaborations. “Let’s sit together at dinner and discuss X.” “Oh yes, let's invite Y too.”

The projects that were discussed are too numerous to mention, and some will take wings soon, while others require further rumination.

The final two days of the journey were rough. The sea was rough and I was confined to my cabin, vomiting constantly and daydreaming of home to while away the hours. A visit from the ship’s doctor, and a huge needle in the rear, but to no avail.

I knew I was prone to seasickness and I was willing to endure it to participate in this incredible journey. Returning to green land, to rich soil, forests and peatlands and bountiful life reaffirmed my reverence for the earth.

My pledge, as Homeward Bound alumni, is to step forward and lead to a more sustainable future for all life on the planet.

If you would like to read more about the Homeward Bound project, then check out their website here!


Dr Samantha Grover is a soil scientist at AgriBio. She is passionate about research that makes a difference.

She is specifically interested in the cycling of organic matter, water and nutrients through soil, plants and the atmosphere, and the associated greenhouse gas fluxes. Her research has spanned diverse natural and agricultural environments and the outcomes have informed government policy and action on wetland restoration in the Australian Alps, savanna management under the Carbon Farming Initiative, agricultural practises in Tibet and greenhouse gas accounting in New Zealand.

She aspires to build her research expertise by collaborating both within soil science and across related disciplines and to contribute to research projects that benefit society.