The Leadership Challenge
Back in 2015, explorer, public speaker and leadership trainer Monty Halls gave a talk to a group of teachers at an education conference. Little did he know the chain of events his speech would set off. The subject was the need for genuine leadership training for young people, a sentiment echoed by much of his audience who set him a challenge – to come up with coherent, structured, accessible leadership training package. Two years later and Monty has done just that, developing Leaderbox - which makes genuine, credible leadership training available to all young people. Coming back to where it all began, Monty has written an article about his journey, from that initial conference two years ago to the resultant system.
The initial brief seemed fairly simple - to come up with a presentation topic that would have relevance for an august group of Headmasters and Headmistresses at an education conference in late 2015. The incentive was staying at a rather lovely hotel, and the chance to meet some interesting folk with vast experience in the education and training of young people. As such I duly set about trying to find a suitably stimulating topic for the talk. A few caveats...My lineage and pedigree sits firmly in leadership development, so it seemed a good idea to chat about just how much genuine leadership training for young people takes place within our school system. At this juncture, it’s very important to point out several key caveats. The first is that I’m not a teacher, and as such cannot begin to appreciate the pressures that teachers are under in terms of their time and skills. The second caveat is a deep-rooted belief that leadership training should be accessible to all young people, from an early age. I know this sentiment is reflected in the educational sector as well, but the thorny old question is how on earth you fit it in to a packed school day in any meaningful way? The third caveat is acknowledging of course that leadership training does take place in a great many schools. Not all by any means, but a great many. Posing the leadership question But here’s the big question, the elephant in the room, the thorny conundrum. Does the leadership training that does takes place actually alienate a great many young people? Is the helmet and harness approach - Outward Bound / CCF / D of E style of training (hugely commendable though it is) - lean towards a particular type of student?
The more I researched the subject, the more it seemed to me that it does, and may ostracize students who are less physically confident, less sure of their own ability, less attuned to the outdoors. It became more and more apparent that developing a means of introducing leadership training for all young people - regardless of specialist skill, area of interest, background, affluence, ethnicity, or indeed age - would be a truly wonderful thing. This leadership development for all sentiment is very much endorsed in industry, with 85% of business leaders in a 2015 CBI survey noting that positive attitude is the number one asset they look for in school leavers. A Centre for Creative Leadership white paper of the same year noted that 84% of business leaders said that they thought it essential that leadership training be offered to all young people, with 90% saying it should be part of the curriculum. Armed with precisely this type of juicy fact, soundbites at the ready, I duly stood on my hind legs and loudly announced that it is about time we addressed the need to create effective leadership training for ALL young people. We can’t I said, tapping the lecturn for emphasis, simply allow it to happen by osmosis. Surely every young person has the right to explore their own potential. I sat down feeling rather pleased with myself. Moments later I was being reminded with some vigour by several school representatives that leadership training is (of course) a key feature of many schools, frequently developed using schools’ own resources and initiative. They also noted that the need for a coherent, structured, accessible leadership training package has never been greater, and if I was so passionate about the subject, how about I did something about it instead of rattling on and pointing fingers? And so - as occasionally happens in life - it seems that a challenge had presented itself.
The last two years have been spent visiting schools, speaking to students, talking to industry figures, and consulting experts on leadership and the issues facing not only young people, but those who teach them as well. This fact finding mission has meant addressing hundreds and hundreds of young people in schools, and very quickly several startling factors have emerged. I begin every talk to groups of students with a question: Who here thinks they are a leader?I have yet to have a girl above the age of ten raise her hand, and when I ask groups of six and seven year olds that question, the vast majority put their hands up. Plainly this package needs to start young, when confidence is high, and deliver results that will last through education and indeed through life. And so the subsequent aim appeared relatively simple - to create an introductory leadership training package that can be accessed by all young people, that is cost effective, fun, easy to deliver, progressive, recognised by industry, applicable to the curriculum, and without a helmet and harness in sight. A simple aim but, as it turns out, hugely complex to realise.
Yet realise it we have. Working with schools from across the spectrum of education there have been repeated trials, constant feedback, and modifications. The result is and innovative, cost effective, universal leadership training system. Anyone can deliver it, anyone can take part, and, without wishing to be histrionic, I feel that it can genuinely impact mental health and well-being in young people - showing them that they can change their destiny, that they do have the power to rise above their circumstances by celebrating and developing their own unique skills. Leaderbox launched earlier this year with the KS1 and 2 boxes, with KS3-5 coming soon. We are still working with schools, honing the package, learning from their experience, and all the while developing a system we hope will help create the next generation of British leaders. Such statements, lofty indeed, represent noble goals but we seem to have real support and genuine momentum. Has there ever been a better time to work together to address mental health issues, communication skills, and latent leadership talent in our young people? I suspect not.