On the way to …… Inspiring Leaders Foundation

Very often the way stories are reported implies that a neat process has been anticipated and then followed: that we all knew what should be done, when and how.

I don’t know about you but I have found that my whole life and decisions have emerged out of a series of fuzzy ideas or sometimes unverbalised intentions, some decisive moments and then more often than not, small steps taking something forward incrementally, though sometimes in bigger jumps. My experience in the business world has been no different. I now run two businesses – one ‘for-profit’ and the other ‘not-for-profit’; and still I do not see or label myself as a business-woman. Why is that? Because I never set out to ‘run a business’. I set out to live my ‘purpose’. And what is that? It took a few years to find the words to accurately articulate it…. And through this process of clarification, other things have become more fuzzy.

I started as a sole trader in 2005 under the name of Potent 6. By 2007 with the advice of a new accountant I set up Potent 6 Limited. I had been working with chief executives, senior and middle managers, executive politicians – supporting their development as leaders within their various realms. I had also transported my emerging ways of working with leaders back into community arenas which is where I began, early in my career. Whilst there were clear differences in scope and context, I was struck more by the similarities in the nature of their leadership challenges. I noticed that some called themselves ‘leaders’ and had no followers; yet others would never call themselves ‘leaders’ and would have many who would stand by them in any situation. I saw many ‘leaders’ in many forms in communities and saw few in the organisational realms in which I mostly worked.

I began to see possibilities for expanding leadership learning by encouraging people to step outside their usual context – to gain experience by learning alongside those within their own and other sectors; across formal hierarchical levels and across local, regional, national and global realms. I saw many flaws in the ways in which ‘leadership development programmes’ had been designed and run. I wanted to create something that really made a difference – that delivered the transformation it promised. I designed a leadership programme which was not content driven; rather it was founded on cutting edge knowledge and principles about leaders, leadership and leadership development. I created a context in which leaders were able to learn and grow in real time by working on real, relevant issues that mattered. I saw the value of working more fully with whole systems – so that leaders could grow and learn alongside those within the same broader system – to be able to magnify and accelerate effective transformation. I began to imagine a community of inspiring leaders – at that time I called it ‘P6 constellation’.

My Mission finally found the words to express itself:
‘Inspiring leaders to co-create a world in which all can forever flourish’

As this became more obviously the driving passion to my life and work, I started to blur the boundaries across sectors, contexts and hierarchical levels. I could see the merit of awakening each individual to that which enabled them to recognise their own capacities as leaders, irrespective of the realms in which their own leadership might play out. And as this happened, I began to notice something else – that it became harder for me to articulate what it was I was offering. I could quite happily, confidently and truthfully say – ‘Yes. I coach senior leaders in complex organisations across and within different sectors. Yes. I facilitate the development of leaders and Boards in the public, corporate and third sectors. Yes. I support the development of leaders in communities’.

What I came to see was that my apparent ‘broad brush’ was confusing to prospective clients. They wanted to work with consultants or coaches who had worked in THEIR sector or in THEIR discipline/ function or at THEIR level. In my keenness to convey the adaptability and efficacy of my offer to leaders, the brand of Potent 6 Ltd had lost market clarity. In my passion ‘to serve’ and to live my purpose, I had lost sight of how best to convey my message…. and added to this, there was something else I needed to be doing and yet I didn’t know what it was.

The wider context began to change. Economic breakdown leading to swingeing cuts meant that fewer organisations were paying for the development of their leaders. Corporate coaching contracts were cut. Local authorities withdrew investment for the development of leaders in local communities. No longer could I see how we could access investment from the public sector to support such development. Yet I could see also see that unless we anchored leadership learning and transformation in different parts of the system we would not be able to effect global transformation.

I also knew with a passion that I was not interested in growing Potent 6 Ltd as a big business. This was my business borne out of my own unique personal journey. I sensed that something else was needed that was not MINE; something that had wider ownership and which was not dependent on one or even just a few individuals. At first I envisioned a community of inspiring leaders across all sectors. My original sense of Potent 6 began to morph. ‘Inspiring Leaders’ – a social business – was born. This not-for-profit organisation was established in November 2009 in order to find a way to support the development of leaders within local communities who ordinarily would not be able to fund their own learning.

We had 3 Directors but the social business lay dormant until January 2011 waiting for the right ‘venture’ to kick-start its operations. By this time one of the 3 original Directors had resigned and Jo Birch and I were left. By December 2010/ January 2011, Jo and I realised that the time had arrived for Inspiring Leaders to be brought to life. We employed a coach who specialized in the development of social businesses to support us. We also knew we wanted to expand the Board and to establish other ways of engaging more and more people in growing momentum and having ownership – to include graduates of any leadership programmes we run. We wanted to create a movement rather than ‘a’ community.
In the latter half of 2010, we, with another group of women had begun to co-create the initiative which came to be called ‘Inspiring women leaders… dare we?’. Although I, within Potent 6 was the initial catalyst, providing initial investment, vision and momentum, it became clear that we needed to create distinction between Potent 6 as the founding sponsor of ‘Dare we?’ and ‘Inspiring Leaders’ the social business. Inspiring Leaders became ‘the’ legal business entity connected to ‘Dare we?’.

Through discussion and support from our coach Servane Mouazan of Ogunte and Karen Birch of the 3rdi, we gained more clarity. Servane suggested we re-name ‘Inspiring Leaders’ as ‘Inspiring Leaders Foundation’ which required amending and adopting additional charitable objects. The name change took effect on 15th June 2011 – the very day that its inaugural venture took place – the first Big Gathering of ‘Inspiring women leaders… dare we?’.

Inspiring Leaders Foundation aims to support the development of inspiring leaders – women and men – across the world. Our business model is to design learning opportunities for leaders who can afford to pay for themselves; to draw on the personal and professional investment (time, talents, money) of others who have something to contribute towards the broader purpose of ‘transforming leadership in Scotland and beyond’, to develop a self-sustaining, expanding movement of inspiring leaders aligned to our shared purpose – and to invest any profits to support the development of community leaders.

Already, through ‘Dare we?’ we have the beginnings of this movement….. individual women coming together, aligned by a shared sense of purpose moving in broadly the same direction… uniting around common interests and focal points of activity.

Our work is starting with women in Scotland. We plan to grow connections and create leadership development opportunities in India and in Africa.

In the aftermath of ‘Dare we?’, Inspiring Leaders Foundation has much to do: grow its unique identity and brand; recruit diverse Board Members; determine how to enroll and engage more supporters and investors to take forward the development of the business; develop its role as custodian of the emerging movement of inspiring leaders…. And so much more! If you want to play a part – contact us!

And for Potent 6 Ltd? My final task is to let go of something that was borne out of my own development and practice; and in so doing to reconsider what this all now means for Potent 6. I don’t have answers yet. What I trust is that in sitting with the discomfort raised by my own questions…. What must be, will emerge.

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