As the dust settles on the World Cup, and the rhetoric about Gareth Southgate’s leadership (and waistcoat) continues, I’m reflecting on something altogether different.
I was lucky enough to be one of 3 facilitators from Impact International who travelled to Moscow to support Streetfootballworld and the FIFA Foundation delivering a Football For Hope Festival. Before you roll your eyes and get all cynical about "sports legacies" (as perhaps I might have done before), this festival uses football and fair play as a medium for tackling some of the toughest community problems faced around the world such as gender equality, racism, violent crime, suicide, and poverty.
Our role as facilitators was to develop leadership capability in 60 young NGO leaders so they could lead the Football For Hope Festival for 200+ youngsters from around the world. Thanks to the passion of these young leaders I've got a renewed sense of hope for the future of our fragile world.
Here are my 3 reflections plus some questions for you:
1. Is it resilience or is it hope?
A recent buzzword in the corporate world is "resilience". I’ve had so many conversations about how to develop resilience in employees and leaders so they can deal with constant change, restructures and job losses, budget cuts etc. These are very real and stressful problems. However, they pale into comparison in terms of the “real-world’ resilience that I met at this Festival.
One young leader was working in a small town where 5 young people have committed suicide in the last few months due to depression. Another young leader works in a city where, because of our first world drug addictions, one of the most financially viable career paths is drug trafficking but the impact is that generations of families are in jail or dead.
And the reality is that many of these young leaders also face the same “corporate” problems that we do. They’re constantly facing budget cuts and job uncertainty and yet seemed to be demonstrating resilience with ease. I asked one of them how she did this and she said, “I don’t know this word resilient in my language. But maybe you are talking about having hope? My hope is my strength to keep doing positive things.”
2. Because of this I can do that
All good leadership development programmes focus on being vulnerable enough to explore what makes you truly unique, warts and all, and how this influences your leadership style. We invited the young leaders to draw a badge that represented their uniqueness (their history, strengths, passions, motto for life) and I was astounded at some of things they shared. Losing a limb during a civil war, losing your parents and being separated from your sister forever, leaving your home country and having to live as a refugee.
As the stories flowed, so did the tears. And yet this was not an X Factor style sob-fest competition. Each person talked about the challenges but not in a “this defines me” way. They seemed to be saying, “because of this I can now do that”. I’m not implying that we should seek out or be grateful for hardship, or indeed that we aren’t worthy unless we’ve faced a life-threatening situation. However, we all have a unique story with real lowpoints and it can be tempting either to be defined by them or to bury them.
3. My growth = World growth
It sounds obvious but you can’t grow in isolation of everything else and your growth will impact everything else around you. The young leaders who came to the event certainly grew in capability and confidence, and they helped each other grow during the process. As they head back home, their growth will impact their communities and families, perhaps influencing the choices and actions that every person makes. Real change in action.
This experience has grown me too. Sometimes I can let myself feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the big picture and how “the world is going to the dogs!”. But working with these young leaders has grown my passion to keep doing the small things that make an everyday impact. Whether that’s helping at my local community garden, writing this blog, listening empathetically to someone share their problems, or bringing a different kind of perspective to some of the corporates I work with. Choosing how to grow can have the biggest impact of all, and only you can do that.
One of the young leader groups created a team motto: “Everyone of us is a star that their light makes a difference to the world.” I hope that, despite the challenges we all face whether big or small, we can each remember the powerful light we have within us and shine it as best we can.