May 16, 2011

Building Capacity for Unlikely Leaders…

On May 4 and 5th, I was lucky enough to attend the Helping Canadian Kids Thrive conference in Regina, SK.  It was an excellent, thought-provoking conference experience.

I was lucky enough for three distinct exceptional experiences.

1. The Best Buddies Blues Band

This little outfit, pairing children with intellectually disabilities and intellectually able buddies, rocked the house.  There was not one person in the crowd of nearly 300 that wasn’t smiling as the unparalleled joy was permeated from the stage. It showed that the academics of school are rarely as important as we think in developing a society that works with and respects all of its members.  Easily the highlight of the conference and it had nothing to do with what I learned and had everything to do with what I was reminded.  Life is to be enjoyed, so live in the moments of joy.

2. Ryan Hreljac’s Presentation

Ryan Hreljac was the Friday afternoon keynote speaker. Ryan is known around the world for his Ryan’s Well Foundation where he has actively engaged in fundraising for various waterpoints around the world.  He is also known as an advocate of clean drinking water for all.  His presentation on Friday afternoon was understated and powerful.

Now, as a 19 year old, he stressed a message that he’s “not anything special, in fact, I was not one of those kids. But I found my thing.  My puzzle piece.”  He implored the crowd to find their own puzzle piece.  You can’t be Mother Theresa and that’s okay, instead be the best version of you.

He reminded me to find humility amidst praise, recognize that change is slow at times, fast at times (like when you are on Oprah –twice) and that whatever speed it is at is the speed it’s meant to be.

He spoke of the growing consumption of clean water in North America and the drastic effects that a non-conservation social attitude will have.

The difference between him and Craig Kielburger struck me as impressively profound. Rather than being a guy who has a million dollar marketing campaign, Ryan is a regular guy who goes about his passion.  Craig is to Don Cherry, what Ryan is to Ron Maclean.  At the end of the day, I’d rather sit and talk and listen to Ron Maclean as what is hidden is most impressive.

3. Reframing Leadership: Building Capacity in Unlikely Leaders

On Friday morning, a colleague and I had an opportunity to present on an explicit practice we have tried to implement and encourage within our school.  Our “framework”, as we’ve dubbed it, includes many tried and true leadership theories blended together working towards adding an element where we find, invite, help and support our at-risk students with leadership opportunities.

Our framework is simple.

  1. Unlearn and Rethink Leadership — It is our nature to provide leadership opportunities for our high flyers.  They naturally find these opportunities, however, when we re-frame what leader looks like, and how leadership functions, we also rethink which students can fill these opportunities.
  2. Discover the Point of Entry — Students who don’t see themselves as leaders or who lack the ‘leader attitude’ are most often going to avoid stepping up. We, as the adults in the building, need to find the hidden leader within but then also recognize that an action, specific task or specific issue might be the point of entry for that student.  Being recognized as a leader is sometimes the first step is recognizing yourself as a leader.
  3. Build a Culture of Support — Having a school culture that cultivates unlikely leaders is essential.  It can’t be one person trying to work with them all, we need to establish an ethic of where leaders (likely and unlikely) have strong support to try something and fail.  Allowing for failure and building from failure in a safe and positive way is key to transitioning an unlikely leaders attitude and vision of herself.
  4. Teach the Skills — Most unlikely leaders lack specific leadership skills and it is very important that we teach in the moment the skills that are necessary.  Never take for granted the skill deficits that these leaders may have and the great opportunities that will arise for these students to learn them.
  5. Identify and Overcome Barriers — One of the biggest things we can do to make unlikely leaders, ultimately successful, is to help them identify what the barriers are that they face and help them brainstorm the solutions.  It is imperative that we don’t provide the solutions or steer them away from barriers, rather it is important that these unlikely leaders face the barriers head on and build the capacity to problem-solve and overcome barriers in their future.

There was a bunch more in our presentation including balloons (a metaphor for building a culture of support), house of cards (a challenge in need of leadership) and some great videos (specifically Derek Sivers’ “First Follower” video.)  The slide deck will is below.


Reframing Leadership: Building Capacity in our Unlikely Leaders


1 Comment

  • Very interesting comments on Ryan vs. Craig… I like your analysis. Always good to find inspiration, yet remain critical of these initiatives: who are we really helping? Recent controversy over Greg Mortenson, etc.
    And I love the framework, thanks for sharing!

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