Lessons on Leadership: Learned from 15 year olds

I have been privileged this year to, again, act as a mentor in the High Resolves Global Citizen Program (http://www.highresolves.org/home.html ).  This year I have been mentoring a group of young leaders in Grade 10 at Corinda State High School.  I have written here previously about my involvement with this fine group of young people (https://shumpty77.com/2014/08/01/living-with-depression-and-anxiety-some-lessons-learned/ ) and am both proud and in awe of what they achieved over the course of this year.

The last session with my mentoring group this year was last Thursday and it was a time to reflect and celebrate the groups achievements.  Whilst I hope the young leaders in the program learned something off me I have been thinking a lot, as part of my own reflection, about what working with them has taught me.  Through this process of self-reflection I have come up with 4 key lessons in leadership my time with the young leaders of Corinda State High School have either taught me or solidified in my mind.

Lesson 1: Every team is different

I confess that I came into this year’s High Resolves program with some experience from having been a mentor in the program last year, albeit at a different school, and that I had some preconceived notions of the likely team I would be working with.  My preconceptions, based on experience, were found be entirely wrong over time as this team of young leaders display many strengths and weakness that were entirely different to those that I had previously encountered in the program.

Lesson 2: Even talented people need structure

This group of young leaders I worked with would have to be one of the most diversely talented groups of young people I have encountered over years of managing, coaching and being part of teams.  I have often been left in awe of those more talented than I in many contexts and lamented that life must be easy for those in that position.  Working with this group made me realise, very early on, that no matter how talented you are you still need some form of structure or plan to succeed.  The project of this High Resolves team was in real danger of not getting off the ground in the early weeks because whilst each team member had an idea of what they could do to best use their talent there was no structure around who would do what tasks.  Once a plan was formulated though each participant thrived.

Lesson 3: Personal engagement is always the best policy with team members

My role in the High Resolves program is to mentor and guide the team of young leaders on project management and strategy given my experience in professional services.  It would have been very easy to not engage with the team on a personal level and just sit in the corner and throw in a pithy comment every 30 minutes.  I worked out pretty early on though that that wouldn’t help this group because, after all, why should they listen to a balding, bearded and bespectacled bloke they do not know from Adam.  My time and their time would have been wasted if I could not engage with them so I decided to tell them, albeit in redacted form, about my own personal journey in life and in my profession.  That gave them an insight into me and, to me obviously, led them to engage with me a little bit more.

Lesson 4: Deploy people where they are both talented and interested … not one or the other

I am a recent convert to the significant importance of loving what you do for a living.  Put differently, if you are not enjoying what you are doing why do it?  In the context of my time with the High Resolves team I saw this fairly starkly: some of the team members who were interested in what they were doing imparted obviously better performances during the course of the program than those who were deployed into an area where they were not so interested.  An extension of this arose where we had young leaders who were immensely talented in one particular area and who were asked to work in that area but were clearly, by the end of the program, not interested in working in that area.  This lead to an obvious drop in performance despite the obvious talent.

To say that I enjoyed my time as a mentor would be an understatement: I am on the record as saying that it is the best thing I have done in 15 years of working in professional services.  The program has helped me grow as a leader and mentor and I have learned a lot.  Next year’s mentoring opportunities can not come quickly enough!

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