Leading by example

I am a participant on the current cohort of Leadership 2025, an intensive leadership development programme, supporting and empowering Black and Ethnic Minority senior professionals to become sector leaders of the future.

The programme includes mentoring support from leaders within our sector.

I’m an experienced Development and Property Director and my mentor is Sebert Cox, a fellow BME professional.

He is the chair of a significant northern housing association.

Sebert has a professional background in the Probation Service, the Civil Service and extensive Non-Executive experience in social housing, including a previous Chair of one of the largest housing associations.

Mentoring is a professional relationship between 2 or more people, with a mentor assisting other individuals to develop their skills and expertise and enhance their professional and personal growth.

Often, mentoring is generally associated with young people starting or looking for a change of career.

In my case, even with over 25 years working experience, it has provided useful context to reflect on my professional career, gain better perspective on areas of personal development and challenged my aspirations and potential contributions to society.

I have had the opportunity to learn, understand and reflect on my mentor’s journey and challenges.

Our meetings held in London, Newcastle and Manchester provided an opportunity to observe and see how Sebert works and deals with issues, including his leadership approach in different context.

I had the opportunity to gain exposure to senior managers, executive teams and boards of other organisations to observe their issues and consider approaches to resolving them.

Interestingly, the organisations I observed have different business drivers and markets, but the core of our issues as social landlords are broadly similar.

From our conversations, the teams were able to also look at things from a different perspective, and I think it has added value to their own thinking.

In terms of developing talent, my mentoring experience has enabled me to fully appreciate those line managers and colleagues in my early career who supported and encouraged me to speak up and to be confident.

These Leaders had challenged me to exploit opportunities, take risks and learn from my successes and failures, whilst not being fearful that I might fit the expectation or the assumption.

Michelle Obama in her recent autobiography explains that we have a responsibility to define ourselves (by what we say and how we act) because if we don’t others will quickly and inaccurately define us.

Sebert challenged and encouraged me as a leader to use my voice to contribute to today’s issue from both my personal and professional perspective.

We are called as leaders in our sector to lead by example; seeking out talent from our diverse communities and encouraging them to demonstrate these talents.

All leaders should be mentors, both to give and to continue to learn.

Yinka Bolaji, Executive Director, Property and Development, Wandle HA