Personal Leadership – Reflections from Lockdown

“We know what to do to bring our economy back to life.  What we do not know how to do is to bring people back to life.”

So said the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.  He was bringing some much-needed perspective to the recovery from this Covid-19 pandemic that has brought the mighty to their knees (even though the ego of some would refuse to admit it). I’d like to go a little further and consider our roles as leaders as we rebuild and create visions for the future.  When I use the term “leaders”, I mean each and every one of us because we are all leaders in our own lives – leaders of ourselves and of people.

In my mid-20s, I began to realise that I had been going along the conveyor belt of life without really thinking about what I was doing or what I wanted to do.  Reflecting on small life events, ones that would have been forgotten if I hadn’t chosen to reflect, made me step back and question what I wanted to do.  They made me step back in order to step forward and to begin my journey of personal leadership.

An opening, an opportunity, has been created by this pandemic and we need to be thoughtful about what our leadership in life means in the post Covid-19 21st century. In life and societies, we can be fixated on binary, short term measures whilst life is actually about seeing that success depends on other things that are just as important. In business, it may be about planning for the right talent to help your business grow or about ensuring the mental and physical wellbeing of your people.  For society to be vibrant, growing and prosperous, such considerations must extend beyond what is for our own personal benefit, to what we want our impact to be on everyone and everything around us. 

Even though each of us has a relative level of privilege, the assumptions we make about what it takes to succeed and thrive from that relative level aren’t necessarily true.  For example, the idea that you can only personally prosper if you work increasingly greater hours of the day or that your success must come at the cost of another’s or that you need to be out networking every night to succeed.  The opposites of this have now been enforced upon us and so, it goes to show, that often the biggest barriers are the ones in our own minds.

Have we ever challenged the assumptions that we hold in our minds of what is true, or are we on that conveyor belt of life, continuing as if only to affirm the status quo? We always look for growth economically, but what does that even mean? “Growing” is seen as the only sign of success or progress and we never question it or the side effects of growing at all costs. The costs are ones we see plainly, if only we reflect.

If we want to talk about growing, let’s talk about growing inequalities, the growing wealth divide, the growing level of mental ill health across global communities. GDP may rise, but contentment and human progress recedes and we need to take this opportunity to address these fundamental elements of being human.

If we needed any indication of the impossible being possible, just think about whether anyone could have predicted that this UK Government would fund the wages of so many at such a significant cost! Or that so many millions of us would be working from home almost overnight.  Yes, societies, communities and industries will be significantly altered, but the impossible will become inescapable and so we must ensure that we invest, as individuals, businesses and governments, with purpose, and support the areas that are most likely to drive us towards societal gains, with the equality of opportunity that we’re desperate to see.

The future will involve existential change.  It isn’t just about risk management but about flourishing, thriving and maximising impact – renewing whilst growing, together.  And living life with purpose, with intentions beyond ourselves and thoughts beyond our own personal gains, doesn’t just come at a cost. In Islam, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is noted to have said, “None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.”  For the sake of long-term sustainability, individuals, organisations, businesses, everyone must add back those moral and ethical values to continuously sustain our society, especially those experiencing the greatest difficulty. It is here that leadership and culture is truly tested.

Being able to trust ourselves, to direct ourselves and to be prepared for the unexpected and the expected are three distinct areas that we as leaders must develop if we want to create a sense of stability with sustainability. We must give ourselves and others the freedom to unleash those pursuits of passion and to explore with a genuine purpose that is for the greater good. Yes, we need to rebound and reset but we also need to build momentum that will come from being flexible, anticipating the unexpected and seeing the opportunities, especially those that may currently be blind spots.

Underpinning all of that, our relationships, our culture and teamwork is more important now than ever. The difficulties that the vast majority of the world’s population are facing are undeniable. It is in such crises that already established inequalities are further increased. Yet, many of my friends and colleagues speak of wanting to return to normality, even though that normality involved so many inequalities and wrongs, so many divides. Who wants to go back to that?

Look at the goodness that has emerged. We’re reconnecting and feeling what it means to have real human connections.  We’re re-learning to be flexible, understanding and compassionate.  We’re seeing businesses support societal needs, seemingly without gain (other than positive brand image).  We’re slowing down as the world has been brought to a halt and re-learning what it means, in the words of my mother, to be human beings rather than human doings.  We have permission to think differently, about what’s possible in a new world we get to create without the usual restrictions.  We can rethink bigger and more compassionately than ever before if we think for ourselves and focus our minds.

Aren’t we, then, already truly being brought back to life?

Get on Board – Reflections

3rd December 2014: an evening which set the agenda to come and proved the need for Get on Board. A significant group of Black and Asian women from across various areas of the sports industry came together to share, learn and strategise. From concerns of racist and sexist language and cultural stereotyping to the distinct lack of role models and feelings of exclusion, the need for action became clear as we all heard the experience of each woman. To be honest, we all knew this well before coming together, but here we found the support system to each do our bit.

As we discussed good practice as well as some possible solutions, what became clear was the need for a support network and mentoring to work through, to learn and to thrive.

The wonderful spread provided by the team at the London Tea Exchange

Fast forward to 2019 and we were now provided the opportunity to do just that. Sport England recognised that an investment injection was needed to create an immediate shift in representation on our sports boards. And so, RimJhim Consulting joined a consortium of partners, led by Perrett Laver, to produce board ready candidates from diverse backgrounds. Our commitment to this campaign was 20 women from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, out of which 12 joined our Get on Board programme.

The initiative, aimed at high achieving BAME women lasted ten months and offered assistance from a high-level mentor, targeted seminars, a range of professional training, and access to insider knowledge on how to navigate the sports industry.

30th April 2020 saw the Get on Board programme come to an end with half the cohort having joined sports organisations and a further three in the process of being recruited prior to the impact of Covid-19. We had planned a fantastic celebration for our fabulous women at a unique venue, but clearly this wasn’t possible given the global pandemic. So, for now, we are saying our thank yous and congratulations here!

Executive Coaching with Katy Tuncer of Horizon Sport

Our board ready women are: Joy Aboim, Dana Abdulkarim, Vivenne Aiyela, Lorraine Bedwell, Safia Boot, Reshmin Choudhary, Donna Fraser, Kamel Hothi, Anika Leslie-Walker, Harpreet Robertson, Haseena Lokhat, Lungi Macebo, Rosalee Mason, Mehmuda Mian, Natasha Preville, Priya Samuel, Kalpana Shah, Khilna Shah, Sayeeda Warsi, Yasmin Waljee.

We want to say thank you to a huge number of people who have helped us along the way and supported our programme:

  • Jaspreet Kaur – Behind the Netra – for her powerful poetry
  • Sajeda Panju of Mint Memories for her photography wonders
  • Miriam Walker-Khan for hosting our launch
  • Jamal Campbell for being our videographer and editor
  • Aliur Rahman of London Tea Exchange for hosting our networking event with such generosity
  • Katy Tuncer of Horizon Sport for her impactful executive coaching
  • Rupen Shah for his finance masterclass
  • Paul Evans for his international sporting landscape masterclass
  • Fadumo Olow and Lipa Nessa of I Think She’s Offside podcast for partnering with us to create a 3 part podcast series
  • Aina J Khan for her written words
  • Rachel Brace of the FA for hosting our launch at Wembley Stadium

A massive thank you to Sarah Mehrali who ran this programme for us and to Cathy Hughes of Sport England and Imogen Sanders of Perrett Laver for their continued support.

Last, but by no means least, this programme’s success is so much down to our mentors – individuals to whom I reached out and they responded so positively straight away. They have successfully guided our women to their growth and success: Annamarie Phelps, Brendon Batson, Chris Grant, Donna Fraser, Ebru Koksal, Funke Awoderu, Geoff Thompson, Mehmuda Mian, Roisin Wood, Rupinder Bains, Ruth Shaw and Vivienne Aiyela

What a team, what a family! THANK YOU!

Driving Good Governance for the Future – if not now, when?

As the world of sport comes to terms with the new reality posed by Covid-19, we’ve been discussing the impact of strong governance on sporting bodies when faced with adversity. Good governance, alongside solid leadership and representative stakeholder engagement, is increasingly seen as a valuable way to mitigate risk. So why is there such a disparity in the weight given to the topic when we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has brought the world to its knees?

Recently, we organised a lively online discussion entitled Sports Governance for the Future – are we ready? with panellists Colin Bridgford, CEO of  Manchester FA,  Lungi Macebo COO at Birmingham City Football Club and Director at Women In Football and Get On Board candidate Dana Abdulkarim. The debate was chaired by RimJhim Consulting Managing Director, Rimla Akhtar MBE

When we asked the panellists what good governance looked like to them at this very moment, Colin said, “It’s a challenge to understand what good governance looks like. Some institutions are really struggling so we have to look at what individual governance structures look like. Previously at Manchester FA, there were no real governance infrastructures in place as a business. We had to look at the role of board directors and analyse what they are actually required to do.” It’s through these simple measures that Colin has been widely credited for driving institutional governance change and reform in Manchester and in doing so, connecting the grassroots game to the professional sport. 

Lungi, who has worked in professional football for over 8 years commented that “football clubs are very different to national governing bodies (NGBs). They could benefit from learning from NGBs by looking for non-executive directors (NEDs) to help shape their thinking. At Birmingham City Football Club, we’ve learnt that having an honorary president is really helpful for governance. We still have a long way to go in terms of good governance.”

Outside of football, Dana who has represented England in rounders and holds 67 international caps shared her experiences too. “When I was at Rounders England, I’d say they were going through cycles of good governance. I had a good experience. They were open and welcoming about accommodating differences.”

As the discussion developed, we asked if sport could ever be fair on the field if governance is weak behind the scene. “When organisations are closed off, it is much harder to question them. There are many layers to an organisation – that makes it a lot harder. How do you remain integral and above the required standard? It’s harder if you are only accountable to yourself. External scrutiny and strong voices is the way forward. Having the right people on Boards is the way to get voices heard,” voiced Lungi who has served on the Women In Football board since 2018.

“There needs to be more transparency. Helping organisations to develop and move forward is vital and business people can play a part in sport too…the recruitment of people on boards is a big issue. How organisations put opportunities forward is also important. We really need to look at the values people can bring,” added Colin who is also the Independent Chair of Oldham Athletic Community Trust.

RimJhim Consulting runs an initiative called the Get on Board Programme which is a senior-level scheme to help prepare successful BAME women for board-level positions within the sports sector. The programme draws to a close at the end of April 2020. It is funded by Sport England and the team is working in partnership with Perrett Laver and other organisations as part of a consortium for change. The overriding goal is to ensure that sports organisations adhere to the Code for Sports Governance – the ‘gold standard of governance’ for sport in England.

We asked why Sport England’s leadership and recognition of inter-sectionality in leadership was important.  An important point noted by Lungi as she commented that, “The Sports Governance Code and Get On Board is a game changer but we need a number of things. It will be a change of culture that will make the difference. We now have women in football – but it’s not just about their presence, but their progress. Women need more  opportunities. If Joe Bloggs looks at his friend for a promotion because he looks just like him, nothing will change. We need to look in a year’s time to see what difference these initiatives have made… everyone needs to be able to see the change, but they need to open their eyes to see that.”

Colin felt that if “you get a balance of people that can really help. The Code allows you to do that. But candidates have to be board-ready. At Manchester FA, we now have more young people observing in the boardroom. Senior NEDs must be able to challenge all the other members.”

Coronavirus has already massively impacted sporting events around the globe. During the discussion, we asked if our governance structures were ready for such a crisis situation and about what we have learned so far to prevent organisations repeating mistakes. Whilst this specific pandemic may not have been anticipated, good governance involves business continuity and critical incident planning. Colin posed the question, “How many organisations have been set up to last long term? How many have business continuity plans, governance etc? You have to ask what governance looks like in the short term AND medium to long term…about how they can support their executive. In the short term, was your board clinically effective? If your governance doesn’t get you through next few weeks, it’s not going to get you through next few months.”

Dana is a teacher based in Sheffield and has delivered various training and development around EduTech, Literacy and Talk-less-Teaching. She pertinently pointed out, “The bottom line is we have to look after PEOPLE. That’s what sport is about. PEOPLE are the most important.”

Lungi candidly admitted, “We definitely didn’t have a global pandemic on our risk register. We’ve been caught out as an industry. No one could have possibly anticipated the impact that it’s going to have. Specifically in football – from footballers, Sports England, our foundations and community trusts….our reaction as an industry has not been great. We should have had a think about different reactions from different areas – good governance would have helped.”

As the debate drew to a close we asked about their visions for the future and the most pressing issues that need addressing. “We need to be more representative of the community that sport serves. We mustn’t let the pandemic slow down the progress towards more representation and openness. We must not move this priority to one side,” said Dana passionately who is the first ever Muslim Hijaab-wearing athlete to represent England in sport.

“You’ve got to change the right elements within articles and constitutions before you can get the right people,” added Colin who is a former Investment Accountant and has been a key member of the FA’s Governance Code Working Group which has now led to the first ever Code for Governance for County FA’s.

“A pandemic like this should make you realise why you’re doing what you’re doing. This is a time of retrospection so that we can pay homage to the values of the people and external stakeholders,” said Lungi on a reflective note.

Whilst we may not have anticipated a global pandemic, being clear on your purpose and that purpose being aligned to a fairer society and sports industry is certainly going to be the significant shift which will help define governance going forward.  The future is one we get to shape.

Get on Board Highlights 2020

We couldn’t be more proud to show you a overview of everything our #GetOnBoard candidates have achieved over the past 10 months.

Watch a summary of the Get on Board programme for 2019/20

Nearly half the group are now sitting on Boards with another quarter in the pipeline.

Although we weren’t able to celebrate the way we had hoped, please join us congratulating them on their successes!

Podcast Three: Candidates’ Perspectives

In the last in the series of our collaboration with the team at I Think She’s Offside, Lipa Nessa spoke to our Get On Board candidates Joy Aboim and Natasha Preville about their recent board appointments.

Joy is a Trustee of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and it’s just been officially announced that Natasha is a Trustee of Parkour UK. 

They talk about their careers to date, raising the aspirations of the young and their future plans now that they will be part of the decision-making process at the top of sporting bodies. 

Co-presenters Fadumo Olow and Lipa Nesa describe their productions as “Two girls sharing our love for sport, general discussion and breaking or reinforcing stereotypes.”

You can listen to it here.

Get on Board Candidate Natasha Preville appointed Trustee of Parkour UK

We are delighted to announce the appointment of our Get on Board candidate Natasha Preville as a Trustee of Parkour UK.

Natasha currently runs her own successful consultancy dedicated to increasing the experience, visibility and career pathways for young people to thrive within the culture, media and sports sectors.

She has over 20 years cross-sector experience, with more than a decade in senior management within the screen industries and has worked on numerous award-winning campaigns for the BBC and Red Bee Media.  

Natasha has a deep passion for eradicating barriers to entry for storytellers and young audiences. Natasha was the Industry Panel Expert for Gen Z Engagement at Google FilmFest 2019.  She has worked across the youth sector and will contribute digital expertise and a knowledge of impact measurement to her Trustee role. She has supported a number of committees, including the Cherie Blair Foundation, the London Creative Industries Panel and Lambeth NextGen.

“Parkour UK are committed to the highest standards of governance and have been delighted to support Sport England’s investment into Perrett Laver and RimJim Consulting. Ensuring our boardroom is diverse and inclusive is of paramount importance, and by adding somebody of Natasha’s calibre with her experiences and skills, we’re very lucky to be able to bring her into the Parkour family. On behalf of the parkour community in the UK and Parkour UK we welcome Natasha and look forward to utilising her expertise and passion to drive forward our work through 2020 and beyond,” Stephen Mitchell, Independent Chair, Parkour UK.

In her spare time, Natasha is also part of the TIME’S UP UK movement, securing wide ranging partnerships to amplify the need for greater diversity representation in front of and behind the camera.  

“We couldn’t be prouder of Natasha’s achievements as part of the Get on Board programme, all culminating in her appointment to the Parkour UK Board.  This sport is forward-thinking, agile and innovative – skills and abilities that Natasha has in abundance.  We cannot wait to see her journey continue alongside the growth of parkour across the country”, Rimla Akhtar MBE, founder of RimJhim Consulting.

Natasha is part of RimJhim Consulting’s Get on Board Programme which is funded by Sport England. Working with Perrett Laver and a consortium of training partners, RimJhim Consulting prepares BAME women for board level positions. The initiative lasts 10-months and offers support from a high-level mentor, targeted seminars, a range of professional training and access to insider knowledge from within the sports industry.