Joy Maitland in conversation with young leaders Esther Chidowe, George Imafidon, and Héloïse Frixon.
When we talk about leadership, you have all interned at various places. What has impressed you, or not, about the leaders of today that you have experienced or encountered?
Esther: One thing that the leaders I’ve encountered have in common is drive and perseverance. Nothing gets in the way of their vision, they’re able to create a vision in their mind and really allow that to come to fruition, and that shows through the things they do.
George: As for me, I think it’s self-awareness – they know themselves so well, and they know the type of people that they need around them in order to produce a successful team. And they make sure that they’re not trying to do everything. But they know everyone they need around them in order to achieve the targets that they want. And as Esther said they know exactly what they want, and with that self-awareness as well they can achieve all of that, so I think that’s helped me and all the leaders that I’ve worked with in the company, it seems like they have that.
Héloïse: The leaders I’ve encountered are more inspiration driven and adaptable and collaborative, at the same time they’re outcome focused. I’ve not met a lot of bright leaders like this, but they tend to try to understand others – their employees, and their colleagues and peers, and also their superiors – and this is what I have learned from those leaders, is that they are trying to chameleon – they are trying to bring all those qualities together to take the best of it.
What part can Lumina Spark play in developing young leaders of the future?
Héloïse: Self-awareness allows us to anticipate our behaviours, I don’t want to say the right behaviours, but when you know what your overextended is, you can anticipate what you’re going to do, and that to make it work you should undo it that way. On my side I know that I tend to overextend reliability, so I tend to be hesitant. So now I know that, I am trying to work on it – it’s not something that comes automatically, but we have to work on our overextended and when we are self-aware of this, it just contributes a lot for future young leaders.
Esther: I believe when somebody has a visual representation of their personality it’s empowering. So, you move through the world differently knowing and being affirmed in exactly what your strengths are, your attributes, and what you bring to the table. So, for me, my Spark has the reds and the blues, and I became affirmed in that, knowing that I like time management, I like all the things that come with the reds and the blues. So, when I do move through the world and I am applying to different institutions, that’s something I always highlight because that is my strength.
You’ve all been unconventional in some way. Esther, your story talks about stepping off that staircase of expectation that you were on and creating your own future. How do you think, in your experiences, your lives, your schools and your universities and your post-graduate blues, how can we spread this so that we create some urgency around this need not to sleepwalk into the future?
Esther: I think the environment I grew up in, as well as meeting Joy and Atiya and experiencing Lumina Spark, really allowed me to step off the conventional path because I was always made aware that it was okay to make a mistake. And it was okay to take a left turn and then take a right turn. So, I was never really afraid to go left or right because at the end of the day you always end up exactly where you’re supposed to be. But I would just say to keep instilling in young people that mistakes are okay.
George: I look at the coaching that Joy and Atiya have given and it’s been instrumental to my development. Even with doing the Lumina Spark portrait, you have to bring all of these things together in order for it to be a massive success. In terms of replicating it and bringing it out there, you just have to expand and reach more people. I’m sure that after seeing that portrait it will have an impact in itself. But the coaching compliments that a lot. I’ve been very unconventional after Lumina Spark without a doubt, and I think Lumina Spark has been a big driver for that, because I think that once I did it, I knew how good I could be. I saw that untapped potential, and I think sometimes that’s all you need. You just need someone to hold you accountable. And that’s why you need the coaches or an accountability group of some sort. I know a lot of young people don’t have accountability groups, and I push for young people to do that, because it makes a massive difference. I’m in two accountability groups and that just helps me in every aspect of my life, so that’s something that I’d push for after the portrait if they can’t get the coaching.
Esther: Just to add to that point, I would say the one thing that allowed me to begin thinking differently is when I had a coaching session with Atiya and we were going through my portrait and I was like ‘oh, I’d really like to improve on that bit, I feel like there’s room for improvement here’. And then she constantly said ‘okay, what can we do about this?’ and she coached me through every bit. And I’m one of those people who never really liked public speaking, I just didn’t like the idea of speaking in front of people. So, she challenged me while I was at university to take more group projects, or more lectures that would require me to develop the skill. So, somebody who holds you to account and who wants you to progress in the path you want to progress in.
Héloïse: I’ve always been unconventional, even before Lumina Spark. But when we did the debrief of the portrait, I said ‘oh yeah, this is me’. I’m just very spontaneous. And it just helped me to be able to see the room for improvement. So, in my case I’m not very down to earth, but I am highly working on it, and it’s a great tool to anticipate the future, it’s all about anticipating. So, I just hope that in a couple of years I will be capable to use more of my blue, but to keep being unconventional because I really like it that way and I’m not going to change that.
Joy: I think what’s special about these young leaders, is their willingness to own their story, their willingness to own their journeys. Because there’s nothing that we could have done with them that would have impacted them the way they’ve described, if there wasn’t that willingness to own their stories. So, I really would encourage you to allow young people to own their story and their journey. Let them know it is okay to make a mistake, and you’ll be there to pick them up if they fall. Let them know it’s okay, and truly okay to make that mistake.
Working with leaders, there is often a difference between millennials coming in, and the already established leaders. So, what is the one thing you would say to the leaders who are the generation who are currently leading, to inspire and to get the millennials to be accountable?
Esther: I would say create the space. Because often as young people, when we go into a workplace that is predominantly filled with people with more experience, we feel that our opinions, or the skills we’re bringing, or ideas aren’t valued. So, when you create space for ideas to be shared, for young people to take accountability, then ultimately only positives can come from that.
George: I would like to also make reference to culture, and I think culture’s a big point. So, I’m currently at Google and all they know is ‘do whatever you like, it’s okay to fail, in fact fail as fast as you can and then move onto the next thing’. That culture has been amazing for me because it means I’m not tied down into anything. I can go and start a company within Google if I like, or I can go outside and do it, and they’re very open to that. So, I think it’s the culture of saying ‘hey, you can fail, and if you do it, fail as fast as you can’. As a young person you don’t have many commitments and so forth, so now is the best time to do it. And then through that process you then learn more and more about yourself and how you can make an impact on the world in general. So, I would say, fail fast.
Héloïse: I would say also lower the distance between the supervisor and the new generation. Lowering the distance makes communication more fluid, and then better ideas and better conversations and outcomes can come from it.
You’ve all done Lumina Spark and have your portraits. In your opinion, how might Lumina Spark be applied to support individuals in developing resilience?
Esther: One thing that’s very special about the Lumina Spark portrait is that it teaches you how to work with your opposite, and that’s always been one thing I struggle with. I struggle with people who aren’t good at time keeping, who aren’t very structured. So, with my portrait it taught me how to work with my opposite and through that you can be resilient because not everything has to end up in conflict or two people not working with one another in that way.
George: From Lumina Spark one thing I also learnt was success can be achieved in many different ways. You know your main archetype, but you can use a completely different archetype and still achieve success. And I think that people often think that there’s one way to do it, that I just need to do what I do best, and sometimes you don’t, you need to actually change it depending upon the people that you’re working with. So, I think just that process of knowing that you can achieve success in many different ways and just try and just push and see whatever happens, just honour the process. I always just focus on the process, and whatever you decide to do, just stick to it. And that’s what I tell all my mentees, everyone that I speak with. Just focus on the process and sometimes you may fail but learn how to adapt as well. And I guess all of that comes through in Lumina Spark. That’s what it teaches you throughout.
Joy: I know that Stewart had a quote that he’s used time and time again, about ‘there’s no failure, just feedback’. And I really think even in our leadership development programmes, we really do stress that with individuals. Because we have often, even as adults, this mindset of failure, that failure is possible. And I mean real failure where you think oh my goodness, I am no good. But if we could think about it as feedback, perhaps we are on to a good thing.
Lumina Learning has come to you very early in your lives. But what is the right age, what is the minimum age that you would suggest somebody take the Lumina Spark portrait?
Héloïse: As soon as possible. I would say from 12 years old even. I grew up in the French educational background and then I moved to the Canadian one, which is the opposite. The Canadian educational background is very flexible and I am so grateful for that. Canada has changed a lot in me. If I had stayed in France, I wouldn’t be the person who I am today. So that is why I am saying so early, 12 years, so even at a young age, children can anticipate, they can learn who they are, they can be self-aware, and they can build their self-confidence.
Esther: I would say 14/15. I look back at my journey and 14 is really when I felt like I found my purpose. That’s when I realised I was passionate about people, I was passionate about young people especially, and women and gender issues. So, had I received the coaching and the training at that point in my life, I think it would have been completely transformational because I would have navigated certain circumstances differently. Because at that age people were also telling me what I should be. So, if young people do have access to these tools, maybe they’re more affirmed when it comes to making these decisions about what subjects to choose at university, or what subjects to choose at GCSEs. Perhaps, had I had access to this amazing tool, I could have avoided certain pitfalls.
George: For me I would say whenever you choose your options – every country does it differently – but for the UK I know it’s often in year 8 or year 9. I think when you’re about to make decisions, that is the point that you should be understanding more about yourself. And those are crucial decisions in terms of the options that you decide to choose. I think if I had Lumina Spark at 14 I would have been able to make a much easier decision. I did my Lumina Spark portrait around 17. I wouldn’t say that was too late, I thought it was a great age. But I would say anywhere between 14 and 17 is a great place to start.
As emerging leaders, in your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Héloïse: I would say when you have to share vision and culture, and when you have to share values to transfer them. You need to keep your employees and your colleagues and so on committed to this vision. We are not every day 100% of course, so you have to keep yourself motivated and committed to the vision and values, and then you have on top of them to keep others committed to them and motivated about them. So, I think this is the main challenge that leaders are facing today.
Esther: I would say the fallacy of perfectionism. So, the idea that leaders have to be perfect and can’t make mistakes. We live in a very hyper-reality situation now where if you make a mistake it’s on a big platform, it’s on social media, it’s everywhere. So, I feel like the world we live in isn’t as forgiving and I don’t know what we can do about that, but it is the fallacy that all leaders must be perfect. I think that’s a very hard challenge.
George: There’s so much noise now, everywhere you go there’s so much noise you can barely hear the signals in terms of where you should go, and many people pull you in different directions. Because of this, knowing yourself is getting much harder now. There’s a lot of different critics, a lot of different people saying things they wouldn’t have said before, because they didn’t have the platform to say it. So, I think knowing yourself now is very difficult, and that’s why you need Lumina Spark to be spread in many more places than it is now.
Watch a video of Esther, George, and Héloïse talking about their journeys of discovery with Lumina Spark.