Volume 14 Number 3
Jumpstarting Young Leaders
01 June 2001

What difference would it make if people learnt to be leaders at the beginning rather than the end of their careers? Mary Lean finds out.

Caroline Chatterton arrived at Sheffield Hallam University, UK, in September 1998 having messed up her A-levels and feeling a failure. 'I was very disillusioned and disappointed with myself,' she says.

Today she is almost frighteningly motivated, with her sights set on a career in corporate law when she finishes her present business studies course. What turned things around for her, she says, was taking part in Learn to Lead (L2L), a training programme run by an unlikely partnership of students and business and community leaders. 'It totally changed me,' she says. 'It helped me to learn from mistakes, clarify my feelings and thoughts, set goals and realize that it doesn't matter what happened in the past, everything comes from today.' It also opened her eyes to needs in the community and made her want to make a difference.

Chatterton's account of how she got a grip on her life is peppered with quotations from Richard Field, one of the L2L trainers. Field, a former Master Cutler of Sheffield and President of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, devotes most of his time to training top management in leadership skills. He finds it 'extraordinary' that these processes which enhance people's self-esteem, self-confidence and effectiveness are not taught at schools and colleges.

Like Chatterton, L2L's Chief Executive, Krish Raval, left school with a sense of failure. The son of Indian immigrants who came to Britain from Ethiopia in 1975, Raval spent his school years in remedial classes, and only began to realize his potential when he went to sixth-form college. He graduated from Sheffield University with a law degree in 1995, 'kind of upset that I'd learnt none of the things I needed to know for life: management processes, how to deal with people'.

Before going on to Cambridge University, Raval attended an MRA conference in Caux, Switzerland, where he heard Field describe how under his chairmanship a company which had been losing over £300,000 a month had been turned into one of the most successful companies of its kind in the world. The key, he said, had been creating trust. But highly qualified young people were coming to him for jobs with no training in such fundamental life-skills.

Raval put it to Field that they should get together to plug this gap, and over the next two weeks they outlined a programme, through which community and business leaders in Sheffield would pass on their skills to students, who would then apply them in the local community. The aim would be 'community transformation through the development of leadership in young people'.

The course, launched as Students for Sheffield (S4S) in 1996, has evolved over the years, but retains its emphasis on exchange between 'today's leaders' and 'tomorrow's leaders', and on service to the community. The present programme has four phases. In the autumn term, students from the city's two universities take part in a residential weekend followed by six Sunday sessions. 'We aim to expand their practical awareness of self-leadership and interdependence, and expose them to good role models who are making a difference to the world,' says Raval. Although the side-effects include increased self-esteem and confidence, the programme is 'not just about motivating people, it's about helping them to reassess their motives in life'. Each student is offered a placement shadowing a local leader.

In the spring, the focus moves on to sixth form (16 and older) students, who go through a similar programme, facilitated by the university students. In the summer, the post-16 and university students design and run activities and mentoring schemes for disengaged, but bright, 15- and 16-year-olds. The fourth phase, which has just been piloted, will give graduates of each age group the opportunity to mentor their peers, in return for some payment: an alternative, says Raval, to more traditional student jobs in Tesco's or local restaurants.

The programme has drawn in such local figures as Douglas Brand, the Assistant Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Sheffield Cathedral, and Isadora Aiken, the General Manager of SADACCA, the largest African-Caribbean community centre in Europe. To the faculty's surprise, it has turned out to be a two-way process: 'We learn just as much from the students as they do from us,' says Field. Aiken sees it as a 'rare opportunity' for exchange between the community and students.

Learn to Lead's chair, John Lambert, spent 30 years in the Department of Education and Employment before leaving to become a consultant last year. 'The programme gives young people patterns of thinking and behaviour that most of us don't get into until a lot later,' he says. 'I just love meeting them a year later and seeing how much they've come on. It's much more dramatic and faster than the normal processes of growing up.'

The 'post-16s' who take part in the spring programme are recruited from Sheffield College, a huge five-site institution with 40,000 students--about 6,000 of whom are full-time. 'Many would say that the confidence they got through the programme changed their lives,' says Henry Hui, senior manager for youth training and development on one of the sites. Students who have been through the course become 'ambassadors for the college and the programme' to their old schools and help to induct the following year's intake.

Clinton Hefford, a graduate of the 1999-2000 programme who is now working as an engineer at TLW Aerospace in Birmingham, says that he uses what he learnt all the time. 'It sparked my enthusiasm and faith that I can make suggestions and follow them through.'

Andrea Cooper, now a customer business development manager with Procter and Gamble in Harrogate, took part in the first S4S programme in 1996, during her second year at Sheffield University. After a highly motivated, and well-supported, school career, the more relaxed environment of university had left her feeling de-motivated. 'S4S was like a jolt of electricity which woke me up again.'

She drew up a 12-month plan of what she wanted to achieve--a 2.1 degree, a grip on her personal finances, a summer placement with a company, targets for a small business she was running, improvements in her relationships with family and friends--and 'made it all happen'.

Last year, when her company was setting up a 'community relations team', Cooper went along. 'They were talking about helping the community by giving them spare computers and spare products--it was done with a good heart, but it wasn't going to make a real difference.' Inspired by her experiences with S4S, she suggested setting up a programme through which local businesses would train 16- to 18-year-olds who would then use their new skills to help local charities.

The result is Harrogate Community Works!, a local coalition of businesses, schools and charities. It piloted its 'learn to lead' training programme last November and December. Each of the 10 school students who took part has been given a mentor from the business community and £500 to use in a project with a local charity. 'For instance, two students are going to produce a resources manual for Breakaway 2000, a group which organizes day trips and holidays for the old or disabled.' The plan is to hold two courses a year, each for 25 students, and the next will start in June.

There's something in all this for business, as well as for the community, she says. The courses and mentoring give young managers a chance to practise their skills, and the process makes them feel more at home in the community. 'If they're happy where they are, they're more productive.'

Since 1996, 500 young people have been through the training programmes in Sheffield, and a further 2,000 were involved in one-day 'mega-events' in 1997 and 1998. The aim is now to spread the model to other cities. Liverpool is the first up, with plans to run phase 1 in February 2002. As Isadora Aiken says, 'It's a brilliant idea. The model needs to be adopted in every town and city.'

Sabrina Ali, who is studying for her A-levels at Sheffield College, took part in last spring's course for post-16s. She writes:

Have you ever wondered if education, experience and qualifications alone were enough to get you ready for the big wide world? Well I came across some clearly dedicated students who didn't think so.

They were afraid that although they might have the right experience and qualifications, they might not have the right skills to adapt to the new environment. What these students actually need is belief in themselves, so they can realize their 'infinite potential'.

The Learn to Lead course we participated in was organized by Mike Murphy, who had been working for L2L fulltime for six months, after eight years studying engineering. Its purpose was to enable students to gain their highest potential.

It was the last day of the course and I was sat amongst my newfound friends. Everyone seemed to be reviewing what exactly they had gained during the residential weekend and the three successive Sundays.

This is what Rachel, a Sheffield College student, had to say: 'I used to care a lot about what people thought of me, but being on this course has made me realize it doesn't actually matter as long as you're happy with yourself.'

Jodie, a university student, had been most interested by the sessions led by Dave Curtis, Director of John Carlisle Partnerships. 'It made you think about people's temperaments and the way they act towards each other. It's something which colleges and universities don't teach us, it helps you realize your potential and justify your own existence.'

Krish Raval, who started the programme five years ago, says, 'It's an opportunity for young people across the city to be the best that they can, where top leaders come in and help them fulfil their aims.'

Personally, I agree with Rachel. This course has given me confidence to do and be what I believe, not what others perceive me to be. That's why I've decided to return in the summer and help the 15-year-olds gain their highest potential.
Mary Lean

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0