I’m really fortunate to be the Aspiring Leaders Programme Leader. This is a three-year course that works with 17 fabulous young adults, who work or volunteer in the third sector in Cumbria and North Lancashire. It addresses many things: the key ones being the development and aspiration-raising of 20-32 year olds who are dedicated to making a positive impact in their communities and the sharing of skills, knowledge and information to allow these people to influence and lead in the organisations that they work/volunteer in.
We are currently approaching the end of the second year of the programme. What fascinates me is how the participants do it. It is a full-time degree programme that is delivered by a couple of partners; University of Cumbria, Common Purpose and Brathay, with funding provided by FCSCT, Langdale, Sir John Fisher Foundation and Rathbones. Yes, the delivery model is a bit different from a normal degree programme: the terms are a little longer with delivery a mix of classroom-based lectures and experience-based residentials with additional mentoring, visits and organisational raids. Yet the demands are essentially the same; the participants still need to complete the same number of essays/research projects/presentations/reports as any regular undergraduate student and submit them, on time, to get the degree.
Then you chuck into the mix the other stuff that goes along with the programme. Like working-whether full or part-time. Volunteering- helping make stuff happen in their communities. Maintaining friendships. Maintaining family. Raising kids? Oh yes. We have quite a number of participants with offspring and all the demands they bring.
So back to my question;
How do they do it?
I have seen a few different strategies at play:
· Passion. When you are passionate about something, you will go above and beyond to make a difference. Those who use passion understand that, although the essay that they are writing might be tedious and hard to write, it will ultimately help in their understanding of the subject, their understanding of themselves and help increase their resilience. This will allow them to be more effective in the pursuit of their passion in the future.
· Goal Setting. A three-year programme is quite daunting and a huge undertaking. But tackling a 2000-word essay, a mentoring session, a visit to an organisation? All much more achievable in bite-sized chunks. This is not to say that you lose sight of the bigger picture, more that you focus on the things that you can do something about NOW that will make a difference.
· Dogged determination. For some, there is no real strategy. They just approach the challenges and barriers head on and call on reserves of resilience, self-belief and tenacity to make it through to the other side. Backing yourself first is a very important tool in this regard.
· Stakeholder belief. For others, in moments of challenge, knowing that there are people who believe in them and their ability provides the motivation needed to keep rolling with the punches and come through smiling. The ALP group provides this in large amount, helping each other in the dark times, along with hosts/sponsors/mentors and others. It’s amazing what you can do when someone else thinks you can do it.
And avoiding burnout? How do they go about that?
This is a harder question to answer. Everyone deals with it differently, but there are some common factors.
· I think that the variety makes an impact; change is as good as a rest. Lots of the participants are pretty active, flitting from one thing to another. Working in this way, although working hard, the batteries appear to get recharged effectively. No parts of the programme are the same, and this variety might be working for some. Does mixing it up work for you?
· Mindfulness and Meditation. Some of the participants use different techniques to keep themselves grounded and to check in. In the same way, some use exercise and gym sessions to help keep physically fit and mentally sharp. When did you last check-in with yourself and how you are feeling?
· Grounding events. For a few ALPers, valued rituals allow for energy to be restored. The pizza takeout on a Friday night with the family, film night with the girls or a coffee with an old friend each month are sacred and help contextualise everything else. What is sacrosanct in your world?
· Self-management. I have seen some great self-management from the participants. They know that they are tired and stressed but that this is only temporary and that, in a week or two, they will be able to rest up, re-engage with other activities and re-charge the batteries. They have metered their performance to ensure that they make it to the finish line with just enough energy left. What state are you in when you get to your finish line?
Yes, there are moments when it all gets too much; we have had a few tears over the past two years. But with this has come a huge amount of personal learning, aided by a growth mindset that has seen the participants flourish and make great strides towards being the third-sector leaders of tomorrow.
Find out more about our Aspiring Leaders Programme.