Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

developing leaders

If like me, you have family members at University, you’ll be aware the academic year is over for the summer.  Young men and women are returning home relieved that exams are over and making plans for the freedom of the weeks ahead. The end of the academic year marks an ending for me too.  For the last 9 months or so I’ve been working on a new project. I’ve been developing leaders with the Leadership Team of Enactus Sheffield. Enactus is an international non-profit organisation that connects student, academic and business leaders through entrepreneurial-based projects. Projects that empower people to transform opportunities into real, sustainable progress for themselves and their communities.

Developing Leaders for the Future

The company is based at the University of Sheffield and is led by an executive team of second and third-year students in their early twenties, reading a wide range of subjects from English to Accounting.

I was humbled when I heard about them.  When I was at University I spent my Saturdays working in Ladbrokes to save up money for the evenings I spent partying.  And here are this group of students facing big challenges and making a real difference in the world.  It is an amazing forum for developing tomorrow’s leaders today.

The executive team had the challenge of leading a company of 150 student volunteers dedicated to running commercial and social action projects.  And they had no prior management or leadership experience.  I was so impressed by their commitment and dedication, I offered to help them develop their leadership skills.

Leadership qualities do not feature on the typical university course curriculum.  But they are a key requirement for employability once the graduation ceremony is over.  So it’s great that there are opportunities for students to develop their leadership qualities while studying for their degree.

Required leadership qualities

Challenges faced by the executive team were the same as any company directors:
  • How can we motivate our workers?
  • How can we change the mindset of project managers?
  • How can we get teams to take responsibility?
  • How can we improve teamwork and collaboration?
  • How can we do more with our limited resources?
They had the added challenge that their “employees” were volunteers who had lectures to attend, studies to complete and exams to pass.  A further challenge was the Managing Director would be graduating at the end of the year so they needed to identify and develop her successor and help transition them into the role.
Like many directors, they were so busy working that they struggled to step back to look at how they could improve the way they work.

Our approach to developing leadership qualities

The first thing we agreed was we would integrate the development programme into company meetings rather than treat it as separate.  The executive team met every Wednesday afternoon.  Once a month, the meeting would focus on leadership development facilitated by Antoinette.We took an agile approach to designing the leadership development programme.  We didn’t carry out a needs analysis at the start of the programme and design a curriculum up front.  Instead, we designed each workshop based on the immediate challenges the directors were facing and worked through those challenges as the basis of the learning.

How the programme evolved

The resulting programme covered the following leadership qualities:
  • Strategic thinking (key challenge: being clear on what they were trying to achieve to prioritise tasks and workload)
  • Motivating others (key challenge: gaining commitment of volunteers)
  • Driving results (key challenge: ensuring deliverables from volunteers)
  • Employer branding and recruitment marketing (key challenge: recruiting student volunteers)
  • Workload management and resilience (key challenge: preparing for the World Cup competition in China)
  • Delegation (key challenge: long-term view of preparation for national and global competitions)
  • Coaching skills (key challenge: preparing new people to take on Director roles)
  • Managing change and transition (key challenge: members of the executive team graduating and new directors taking on their roles)
  • Having courageous conversations (key challenge: setting clear expectations of volunteers during summer holidays)

Style of learning

These students didn’t need more lectures and PowerPoint slides so we used none.  We designed each workshop according to the following principles:
  • Facilitating learning through application and experience (rather than a download of information or “death by powerpoint”). We built a series of experiences and activities that enabled participants to learn what they needed to learn;
  • Keeping it real! We made the experience as ‘real’ as possible using directors own challenges, examples and experiences so they had meaning and relevance;
  • Making it practical and immediately actionable. The directors learnt practical tools and skills that they could apply immediately and effectively to real Enactus challenges;
  • Stimulating ALL senses to speed up learning and retention. We used various activities and methods to keep all members of the group stimulated and involved
  • Gaining participants commitment to do something different. We worked through specific issues the directors were facing so they could go away with concrete steps they could take to make progress.

The Result – “The support was invaluable”

At the end of the 9-month programme, the executive team could celebrate several successes:
  • Enactus Sheffield came second in the World Cup competition in China (losing only to China, the host country)
  • All third-year members of the executive team graduated with good degrees and jobs to go toFirst and second-year members were appointed into the newly vacated director roles and handovers were complete.
  • First and second-year members were appointed into the newly vacated director roles and handovers were complete.
The executive team gave the following feedback:

“The support was invaluable.  It helped us understand our roles much better, focused us on what we were trying to achieve and gave us perspective when we needed it.  It helped us think about other stakeholders, develop new skills to help us lead people and improved the dynamic in the executive team.  And we passed our learning on to our teams so everyone benefitted”

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