It's amazing where your work takes you and where inspiration can be drawn from. Yesterday I had the privilege of being invited down by Head Teacher, Mrs Jane O'Brien to St Mary's Church of England Primary School. Which so happened to be 450 years old in 2013, making it one of the oldest schools in the Country.
I have to confess, I've known Jane since I was 16. I'm now nearly 50. Our families meet several times a year, and we go on the occasional holidays together. However, in all that time i've never really broken through the general superficial layers of conversation about what each of us do for a living and more importantly, invested enough into one another's emotional bank account to establish why each of us choose the path we have.
So how pleased was I when Jane reached out by text after reading a client testimonial about some of the leadership mentoring I do. "Hi Ron, hope all is good. As I keep seeing your posts on social media, I was interested to know whether you have used the transferable leadership models in the education sector?". A couple of texts later, and a chat and a coffee were scheduled.
The day arrives, I get up early and make my way in from Surrey into London, Stoke Newington Church Street N16 0JT to be precise. Jane and I are scheduled to meet at 11am, I'm there at 10.30am sharp! It's the first time in my life i've ever been early for School :)
My hearts beating, palms sweating, why am I feeling this way I ask myself. Then it dawns on me... so here comes my second confession... You see, I left School at 14, no qualifications and no matter how hard my parents tried to get me to go back, I was having none of it! Sorry Mum & Dad!
Memories of going to the Head Teachers office were largely to be told off and unless I knuckled down I wouldn't amount to much.
I compose myself, sign-in at reception and then I'm greeted with a warm smile and hug from Jane as she appears from the office. I'm starting to feel better and the palpitations are starting to wane. "Fancy a tour of the School, Ron?". I'm curious as well as eager to face the institution I spent so much of my youth fighting against, and of course accepted Jane's offer.
As Jane chaperoned me around the School, which happened to look from the outside like a large box of Swan Fester matches (that's for those that are old enough to remember that brand), was actually a Tardis. Each corner we turn and each door we opened just threw up a heart felt smile from these little souls all trying to make sense of this new intruder just barging in.
We leisurely spend about an hour touring the School, meeting and greeting the teachers, support staff and administrators.. I can't help but feel inspired. The tour around the School fed me in so many ways… It reminded me of a really important institution dedicated to nurture, growth and a world full of possibilities, but with also the responsibility to operate within the boundaries of decency and respect. Something as a young man was missed on me largely through self importance and or anger. How I would so love to go back and re write that little bit of history :)
In a cool way, I'm really proud of what Jane has been able to create both for herself, her team and most of all, the little ones. I also knew Jane was too modest to say it herself, but the School, the Diocese, the Community and the Parents have a lot to be thankful for. Jane took the School over 7 years ago, with a fairly substantial deficit, certainly more than she was expecting, and slowly brick by brick, has been building a path to greatness, founded on a strong mission:
“St Mary’s…. Feeding the mind, body and spirit so we can be the best we can be” as well as value and belief system of Kindness, Truth, Courage, Hope..
It was everywhere, not in a 'you must follow this' mantra, but in a collaborative way. Each class room I went into, there was a unique and clearly identifiable by the behaviour and the pieces of work created from the children and teachers playing back their interpretation of what the mission and it's values stood for. Quite remarkable.
As a business advisor and mentor, I get to be in a very fortuitous position, listening and working with leaders, from businesses large and small. And in my opinion a leaders job is to provide direction and clarity. All too often I see leaders with the responsibility and authority, however, without the clarity and even worse a belief system to overcome the challenges and prevail no matter what. When I listened to Jane, I heard ‘we’, ‘us’ ‘our’ and never ‘me’ or ‘I’.
To look out of the window and be grateful and recognise those who helped get the School to where is was today, rather than stare at oneself in the mirror and take the plaudits, again, it's another beautiful quality Jane has.
As we finally sat down in a local Artisan coffee shop, me with my Flat White with Almond Milk and Jane with her Just Juice carton. Jane spoke so enthusiastically about the value a mentor had on her and what mentorship might do for her team.
We explored the possibilities of what next for St Mary's.
Personally, I feel privileged every day to be able to sit as a mentor and listen to business leaders, managers and even young aspiring entrepreneurs trying to navigate the world, a job, a role or a particular set of challenges. As a previous employee and a young aspiring leader of someone else's business, and now as a business owner myself, very little surprises me when mentoring and advising.
The symptoms and circumstances whilst may feel unique, are actually very common and completely agnostic of industry or size of organisation. The leadership and behavioural models available are also consistent, however, it's people's application and execution that sets them apart. And wow! Jane, you truly are a pathfinder, an inspiration not to mention 'from out of this world'.