School of Hard Knocks: What business leaders can learn from London’s roughest schools

29 June 2017 -


Managing your employees is surprisingly similar to controlling a classroom. Find out how turning an unruly class into inspired youngsters can help you get the most out of your workforce

Guest blogger Andro Donovan

Entering a classroom of disengaged and unruly teenagers the first time was like walking the plank. Sometimes students would not make direct eye contact with you, openly challenged your authority, or refused to work. It sometimes seemed that any attempts to teach these kids, let alone inspire them, was an impossible dream.

I taught in some of the roughest and toughest areas of London. I met many teenagers, some of them from very difficult homes. At school, the difficult ones ended up in ‘sin bins’ (silent classrooms manned by strict teachers). I realised early on that while the school felt they were helping, all they were actually doing was supporting the body of evidence these children were gathering about themselves – ‘I am not good enough, and I am not worthy’.

Getting these pupils to believe in themselves really paid off because, under the hard shell, they were just young people who had been let down and were disillusioned.

Does any of this sound familiar? My work as a facilitator focuses on getting people to stand back and challenge some of their limiting beliefs about what is possible for them. They may have inherited these beliefs from their home life, school life, classroom or cultural background.

Inspiring students is very similar to leading teams and a workforce. Some of my most valuable experiences came from these early years of teaching, and the same lessons can be applied to the corporate world.

Here are my five top tips for creating engagement in the workplace and capturing hearts and minds.

1. Set the context

Articulate to your team what you are expecting and what you are aiming for. This sets the tone for full involvement, participation and teamwork. Let people know what the company’s aim is, not just in figures but also in terms of the experience you want them to have.

Let them know how their part in the endeavour is important and valued. Describe how they are going to feel good about themselves when it’s achieved.

2. Give them an inspiring brief

The quality of the brief dictates the outcome. It’s important to enroll people rather than command. If you demand people will disengage from their creativity and become resentful. Tell your team you care about them, not just their performance.

The key to getting great results is being a good mentor. One word of encouragement, praise or validation can go a long way to boosting morale, willingness and loyalty.

3. Be personable

Take an interest in people, make a point of learning their names and familiarise yourself with their lives and interests outside the workplace. Make a point of having real conversations about their future or dreams. Find a way to connect so that they can relate to you as a human being, not as a role or title.

4. Let people make mistakes

If we never made a mistake we would never learn. Taking risks, putting forward new ideas and taking responsibility to implement them takes courage. Be prepared to have people make mistakes. If you are too punitive people will never leave their comfort zone.

5. Expect the highest standards

With the students I used to teach, when I was praising them and appreciating their effort they seemed to light up like Christmas trees. A spoonful of sugar goes a very long way. Noticing and acknowledging positive behaviour breeds more of it – you get what you focus on.

Once you’ve earned some trust and respect you can begin to expect higher standards. People thrive on being given opportunities to shine and be challenged. Once you show people a glimpse of who they could be, they become passionate about proving you right.

Motivate Yourself – Get the Life You Want, Find Purpose and Achieve Fulfilment by Andro Donovan is out now, published by Capstone, priced £10.99, available from Amazon

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