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The Leaders of the Future


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Like Russell, I’ve made it my mission this year to widen the scope of presentations I choose to see and pay to see. I want to hear some new perspectives and have some new input. So in keeping with this resolution I went to a talk yesterday by Richard Gerver, an ex-primary school head who turned the school he led around from a failing institution (it was, in his words "near bankcrupty") to a school that received A+ ratings by inspectors and was reknowned globally for being a centre of educational innovation and excellence.

So how is this relevant to marketing, brands or communication? I think it’s highly relevant. Apart from anything else he acheived these results through a ruthless focus on involvement and participation – he engaged a hard-to-engage audience by empowering the pupils. They had genuine involvement in running the community and genuine responsibility. The lessons in his schools weren’t lectures – they were highly interactive sessions. The kids at his school weren’t told they had to go school, they wanted to come to school.

Many people look at the problems in education and think about how they can make kids learn better. Richard turned this on it’s head and started looking for ways in which he could reawaken children’s natural desire to learn. The kind of desire that we suck out of them early on. Particularly when we box in creativity, when we encourage them to colour in between the lines, not to take risks. So when these children go into the world of work they are trained out of many of the qualities that many (including me) would argue are fundamentally important in todays rapidly changing environment – creativity, flexibility, willingness to experiment and take risks.

Richard used a school assembly analogy. In his school he runs two assemblies – one for 4-7 year olds and one for 8-11 year olds. And occasionally he’ll go and do an assembly at the local secondary school. His assemblies are as interactive as his lessons. When he asks for volunteers, he is deluged with enthusiasm from the younger kids and everyone sticks their hands up (pick me! pick me! pick me!). In the older assembly, the 8 and 9 year olds are slightly less enthusiastic but most stick their hands up. The 10-11 year olds are starting to wise up. By the time they’re at secondary school the alpha-male and alpha female thing has kicked in and they’re looking along the rows to see if it’s ‘OK’ to volunteer. And of-course most of the time it isn’t.

I think this is relevant because we live in a culture where everything is about trying harder. If it’s not working, try harder. If something isn’t gaining traction, we’re not working hard enough. If it’s not cutting through, we’re not shouting loud enough. Go back and try harder. This encourages us to push against the problem instead of taking the time to step back and find a different, smarter and quite probably quicker solution to the problem by thinking about it in a different way. It reminded me of a Stephen Covey quote I saw recently:

“A leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells: ‘Wrong jungle!’”

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