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My SDF Story with Maria Kukhareva

Maria KukharevaWhere do you work and what is your role?

I am currently Head of People Development at the University of Bedfordshire. I am also a very proud member of the SDF Executive Committee and Chair of the new Emerging Leadership Models Special Interest Group.  I have worked in the UK Higher Education for over twenty years now, in a variety of roles – professional, academic and research. When I look back at every job I’ve ever done, learning and development has always been the common thread! Universities are amazing places to work at and I have developed many great connections.

When did you join the SDF?

I joined SDF three years ago

Why did you want to join the SDF?

I wanted to share and learn best sector practice, connect with like-minded individuals, network and exchange ideas. The Forum delivered all of that and more.

What’s the best thing about the SDF?

The collaborative community spirit and the wealth of expertise! The Forum has been an amazing resource of inspiration, advice and very practical information for me and my team. I can’t praise it enough and am really proud to be a part of the Forum and the Council.

What are you working on at the moment?

My team and I are currently finalising learning and development plans for the year ahead. We have some exciting new development opportunities coming up for all our staff, managers and leaders. We have been focussing on sustainability, through building communities of practice and embedding peer support structures, which go beyond the training experience, and enable our people to develop consistent professional practice.

What does a typical day look like?

There’s rarely a typical day! Every day is so different and I love it. Just today my team and I finalised Mentoring and Coaching community and evaluation plans for the University; put in place support for our new Aurora cohort; made progress on a number of other projects. We also had very positive discussions with colleagues from Advance HE; and the WHEN network. On other days, I’d be working on plans and reports for our internal Committees and Boards; delivering training; analysing L&D data; coaching and mentoring colleagues; supporting our departments with departmental development plans.

Tell us about an event that altered the course of your life/and career.

These are good questions!  I’d imagine that moving to the UK from Russia in September 2001 has had a major ripple effect. I came here as an EU-funded exchange student to study on an MBA course, at what was then the University of Luton. I met my now-husband a month after I arrived – he was my customer at a local café one rainy Saturday morning. And the rest is history, you might say.

The person who has influenced you the most is:

I am a big fan of Dr Ginny Whitelaw’s work and leadership style. I love the fact that she works across disciplines, applying her solid scientific knowledge, expertise and rigour to advance the field of leadership, coaching and organisational wellbeing. In my earlier career as an academic, I have lead on cross- and inter-disciplinary projects, and have seen first-hand the value and the impact these collaborations can have on individuals and organisations.

I see Ginny as a great role model for aspiring female leaders. Her commitment to using her influence to advance authentic, connected and ethical leadership has my full respect and admiration.

Work life balance – what leisure activity you enjoy the most?

Every Saturday, I get an early morning train to London, to attend a 90-minute contemporary dance class. My fitness levels need working on at the moment, so I wouldn’t be exaggerating much if I said I sometimes crawl out of the class, exhausted. But I absolutely love it – it takes away all the worries of the past week, and gives me some sort of magical energy to tackle anything that’s coming my way.  I’ve also had a photography career as a side line in the past. I still take photos whenever and wherever I can. Luckily, phone cameras are getting better and better so I don’t need to carry any heavy equipment with me.

Something about you that people would find surprising

I have no idea! But I think I should ask my colleagues and friends.

What’s your greatest fear?

It’s a tough one. I think once you become a parent you develop this whole new set of fears, the sort of fears you’d have found ridiculous before then. I know I am in good company though – as all parents want to do their best and create a safe and happy life for their children.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

My family! We spend a lot of time together and have great fun. We may disagree about food choices though, so the dream party will require some advance planning and negotiation.

What would your super-power be?

I’d have an unlimited supply of (good) energy. Ideally I could also share this energy with others – perhaps in the same way parents now can share their mobile data.

What’s your favourite/least favourite food?

That’s easy. If I could, I would eat Thai and Japanese food every day for the rest of my life. Oh, and French patisserie cakes. Although Turkish, Indian, Greek and Italian come close second… If you are already thinking: ‘she just loves food’ you wouldn’t be wrong!

What’s the worst job you ever had?

Hm…I’ve never thought of any of my jobs this way. All my jobs gave me something valuable – knowledge, expertise, friendships, lessons. I suppose if I was really pressed to pick one, it’d be my first ever job. I was a student in Russia then and sold souvenirs in a souvenir market. My stock wasn’t the best and I didn’t always feel comfortable pushing a hard sale. I remember that I wanted to be more proud of my merchandise, to be able to say that what I have is the best. That was the downside, alongside the very, very early morning starts – I have a picture from that time – me sitting there, pale and bleary eyed. However that experience did amazing things for me, too, as I got to practice my English on a daily basis, and met a lot of interesting people. This encouraged me to travel and who knows – maybe even caused me to end up in the UK, in some ways.

What thing would improve the quality of your life?

More quality time with my family. More time outside. More time moving, rather than sitting. That said, I have been getting into more ‘purposeful sitting’ lately – by that, I mean sitting meditation. It’s not something I’d ever thought ‘is me’, as I prefer to decompress through doing something more active –sport, dancing or even photography. However, silent meditation practice completely took me by surprise, and I’ve been observing some subtle positive differences. I hope to make it a more regular practice.

What’s coming next for you?

I cannot wait to get stuck into my role as an SDF Council member, and help the SDF community thrive and grow. I am also super-excited about developing the new SIG, Emerging Leadership Models. I truly believe we are at a point of great transformations in the world of leadership development, and the SIG can help shape this field for Higher Education