I don’t know if it was a sense of loyalty, or ownership – but I remember being keen to stay in the youth group I was involved in as a teenager. While my friends were leaving the club, heading up to join an older group, I stayed behind, eager to help out in any way I could.
As I became part of the furniture, I found more and more opportunities to come alongside younger members– much in the same way as others had supported me when I first joined. This growing responsibility brought with it a passion for developing these relationships, to provide a vision for these young people and create an environment where they were excited to be.
As the group started to move in different directions, I took on a new role as a leader, which was pretty surprising to me. I remember expressing disbelief to my co-leader that we would be given this much responsibility. Aged 19 we caused mayhem with wide games on our first residential trip!
It wasn’t the most risk adverse approach, but it was certainly fun for the young people, and an incredible learning experience for us. Thinking about how we develop leaders now, I ask myself if I would give that same responsibility to the young people currently within our sphere. It’s easy to think that as an organisation grows, you can’t risk your reputation in this way – but I don’t know how I would have developed without those opportunities.
So, how do we give young people an opportunity to ‘fail safely’? While my time as a leader might have seemed like a Health & Safety nightmare, the truth was that I was in a very safe environment; there were mentors who invested in me who I could draw upon in this ‘on the job’ training.
This giving of responsibility is essential to how we grow young people into leaders at LifeLine – having the confidence to give them a chance, while offering a safety net that leaves room for them to fail safely.
Where does this safety net come from?
I recently went on a property trading course, and Richard Kiyosaki spoke about property investors building ‘Power Teams’ around them, of accountants, solicitors, tradespeople. If someone was setting up in this business, I would say the same thing – where’s your power team?
I needed my co-worker, to challenge and work alongside me. While it could be frustrating as it felt like we spent a lot of time arguing, this was essential for our development, like steel sharpening steel.
Having your own mentor in the power team is vital – as well as having a wealth of experience and maturity to draw from, this ensures consistency in the message we give to young people. If I think it’s important for a young person to be mentored, it’s also important that I be mentored.
The final aspect of our power team was the supportive community we worked from – a community of people sharing our vision and eager to get involved. While this was a privilege not everyone has access to, this environment offered bountiful resources for both my development and the project itself – I remember whipping up a team of a hundred volunteers keen to dive into what we were doing.
While experienced mentors, passionate communities and supportive environments are fantastic – the best resource for developing young people as leaders is time. Growing leaders is a long-term commitment, one that flies in the face of the short-term nature of funded programmes. I have seen a young person go from truancy and behavioural issues to being awarded an MBE by the Queen – and this change didn’t happen in two school terms.
Over the last twenty years, I’ve seen dozens of young people become passionate leaders driving change in their communities. This path often starts the same way, as it did for me – with young people taking ownership of programmes that have had a tangible impact on their own lives, striving to offer the kinds of relationships that they themselves have drawn from.