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Leaders Now event with Toby Young

It’s not every morning you get to facilitate a conversation with someone who sparks a marmite reaction across the social sector, so when Shaks Ghosh, CEO of Clore Social Leadership asked me to facilitate a breakfast leadership conversation with Toby Young, I jumped at the chance.

The Leaders Now events series is run in partnership by Clore Social Leadership and the House of St Barnabas. It brings together great speakers and leaders from the social sector to inspire, encourage debate and new thinking, and to provide an opportunity to network and meet other leaders.

April’s session featured a conversation with Toby Young, the journalist activist and reluctant leader of the free schools movement. However, he is so much more than that; an accomplished social commentator, journalist at the Spectator, former CEO of the West London Free School Trust, Brexiteer, published author, food judge, cyclist, father of four, keen QPR supporter, and the man most likely to polarise debate about education, freedom of choice, self-determination and the class system.

The night before the conversation, Radio 4 broadcasted Toby’s most recent programme, The Rise and Fall of the Meritocracy, where Toby asked whether his father, Michael Young’s dark prophesy is correct, if your genes determine your future, and whether the Brexit and Trump votes signal the death knell for the popular political vision of a modern meritocracy.

Suffice to say, as a former Director at the Young Foundation, the programme sparked a heated debate (aka row) in my household and I confess I carried this apprehension into the House of St Barnabas. With 40 people in the room from a variety of sectors including education, local government, heritage and more, Toby led us through in what I might call his reluctant leadership journey; from the denizens of NYC to having 150 people standing in his living room wanting to set up a school.

Obviously what goes on on tour, stays on tour but I do have permission to share Toby’s 9 tips for leadership which I surmised from his talk:

  1. Admit when you are wrong
  2. Look confident while doing it
  3. Remain steadfast in purpose as it will steer your course
  4. Build a thick skin
  5. Having a strong moral purpose will help you get the best of people
  6. Being engaged in a common venture with like minded people gives meaning to life in a way money and status does not
  7. Co-opt the tools that work regardless of where the come from.
  8. Sometimes being belligerent in bunker needs to happen to get you through tough times but don’t stay there too long
  9. Collaborative decision making is miles better than individual decision making

When I read them back to him, Toby said, ‘when I hear them like that, it’s bleedin’ obvious really - I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realise them.’

For me, Toby reflected a style of leadership I often see in movements - activists that have started with a passionate belief around fixing a perceived injustice who have realised that to go far, it helps to go with others. No one ever said that social change was a quick fix and Toby Young I think, would be the first to admit that.

Share your views below, or join the conversation on Twitter.

Esther Foreman is the CEO of the The Social Change Agency, connect with her on Twitter.

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