Sunday, 26 July 2009

The symbiotic relationship between giving and gaining

Recently I had a very powerful experience which I am keen to share because it reaffirmed one of my core beliefs which is that in giving freely of ourselves, we gain tenfold or as Churchill put it so eloquently We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Also it is an opportunity to promote an organisation that is making a difference by what it does - the Network of Black Professionals.

As often happens with life's opportunities, it came about by chance in the form of an email from a friend who thought I might be interested. It stated that the Black Leadership Initiative (BLI) was looking for suitable mentors to work with Black employees mainly in the public sector. This led to a telephone conversation with the Director of the BLI, a very persuasive woman who convinced me to sign up for their two day mentoring programme.

My initial thoughts were not altogether favourable. I was not sure what I would gain from the course because I was already a qualified coach, although I could see why the BLI would want all potential mentors to go through their training programme. It is important that mentors understand how the host organisation operates and appreciate its cultural ethos. The two days ended up being so much more in part because Caroline Harper Jantuah, the trainer, created a space which enabled participants to be themselves, share and be inspired.

What made it so powerful, was the use of R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.'s Building a House for Diversity as a framework for the initial session. Thomas uses a powerful metaphor involving giraffes and elephants to help people grasp the importance and impact of diversity. In the fable, the elephant who represents minority cultures is expected to diet and do ballet lessons so that (s)he can fit into the house of the giraffe. How often do we find this sort of approach within organisations and parts of life? How could we approach difference more inclusively? Those of us on the course felt that it was important for those from the majority and minority cultures to work together to build a new organisation with shared values, where all had the same amount of opportunity to progress.

Later on we were introduced to a former mentee who had gone through the programme. It was clear that she had gained a tremendous amount from the relationship she had developed with her mentor both in material terms (that is progression within the work place) but also in more profound ways such as her level of confidence. She now has a wide, influential network of people on whom she can call. It was wonderful to see.

It is not just about individuals. The BLI focused it's initial efforts on dealing with under-representation in further education. When it started, there was only one Black Principal of the approximately 400 colleges in the UK. Now 10 years later there are 12. This shows the impact that good mentoring can have at a sector-wide level too. It is so exciting especially since the Initiative has now broadened its remit and started working with other parts of the Public Sector such as the NHS and Central Government.

All this is good stuff but what was truly amazing was the level of connection with so many of those in the room. There was a real warmth and level of interest within the energy of the space and as time went on, individuals saw the value of others within the group and appreciated them openly in front of everyone else. It was a live demonstration of what can be achieved when we all work together in a spirit of openness and inclusion. Personally, I received a number of affirmations and interest in the service I offer. This ranged from an invitation to run my new Whole Self Leadership awareness programme with Black youths and young men who have been imprisoned to running a Leadership development programme on how to encourage self-management within teams at another college; as well as requests to become individuals' executive coach.

In conclusion, my learning from this is that if we are are true to our primary values, and we give freely of ourselves to those causes and things that really mean something to us; we will receive so much more. For me, Diversity has been an important issue for over ten years and it was a real privilege to be in the company of so many who shared my passion and with whom I could communicate using a shared language. My challenge to you is to find, if you do not already know, what is that important to you and ways in which you can express that passion to make a difference and see how it can transform your life.

If you have been inspired by this article, please do leave a comment and share it with others. If you want to find out more about what I do go to my website

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