• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on Richard Gerver - Teaching success

At Spotlight, we had the opportunity to speak to Richard Gerver, Author and Speaker, who told us about transitioning from principal to author and learning to adapt to unfamiliar times.

Teaching success

I spent nearly two decades working as a teacher and then a school principal. The school I was privileged enough to run, became an international success story in the early 00s. The school went from one of the worst in the UK to becoming one of the most successful and innovative in just under two years. I have to admit, that we had no idea that’s what we were working towards, we just wanted to make a real difference and do our jobs.

As a result of the success though, more and more people wanted to know about what we had done and how we had done it. As a result, I was increasingly asked to travel to speak at events. Eventually, and it was the toughest decision of my professional life, I decided it was time to go out and work as a speaker full time. It was my wife, a tough Yorkshire woman, who eventually stopped my procrastination; by saying to me, “Richard, you have spent your life telling young people to take risks and seize opportunities, are you going to be a hypocrite or get out there and try for yourself.”

That’s how it began. I left the school and began the adventure that I’m on now, working around the world as a professional speaker and author, specializing in human potential, leadership, change and success. I have also been fortunate enough to write four books, two on education; Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, which was the story of my school, Education a Manifesto for Change, which explores how we need to work to develop a new approach to education that works for young people and the future global economy and two books about personal development; Change, Learn to Love it, Learn to Lead it and Simple Thinking.

Overcoming Setbacks

After I left education and started my new life, the global financial crisis struck. I had no real profile outside of education, and no momentum at that time so it was scary! I had good people around me though, a fantastic agent and a mentor who helped me. I also learnt how to scramble and network in order to find footholds.

I ran into the second major crisis as a result of COVID, which wiped out my speaking engagements, but I have drawn on the resilience and the self-belief that I developed in 2007/8. I gave myself time for the situation to sink in and then started to evolve a strategy.

Both of these setbacks helped me to develop, both personally and professionally, and looking back now, I feel that I was very passive in 2007. I waited for work to come to me or my agent and it taught me that I needed to be far more proactive; network, be curious and use the slow times to learn and develop.

When COVID struck I did the same thing. I believe that in times of crisis we often act too quickly, as we desperately scrabble to feel in control and as a result, we don’t develop a clear understanding of the challenges or a strategy to deal with them. I overcame the setbacks by talking to people and learning how to communicate as a speaker through using technology and as a result, I have begun to build a pretty good, online offer, which I hope to integrate into my menu of ways to work moving forward. For example, rather than travelling to Australia for one day to deliver a speech, at great extra expense to a client, I can do it from my new studio here.

Personal Growth

It’s important to take the time to step outside of your usual jobs and think bigger, and maybe differently. We all spend too much time focusing on doing something new and we need to remember that the best way to evolve is to step back, take a breath and experience new thinking.

People need to realise that moments of failure or mistakes are the moments where you learn and grow. I learnt early on in my first career as a teacher, that you learn nothing new by getting something right, you only learn something new at the point of a mistake or when you realize that you don’t know something or can’t do something. We all need to recalibrate our relationship with failure.

Personal development is not a luxury but a necessity for any growing business.

I love the newfound use of digital platforms to deliver events and feel that it will have an important impact moving forwards. During the first lockdown, I recorded two courses for LinkedIn Learning on Mental Toughness and Smart Thinking. The growth of platforms like that is going to democratize learning and make it more accessible to people everywhere, no matter what their role or sector.

Words of Wisdom

If you’re wanting to start your own business, my advice to you would be to do it! Don’t overthink or procrastinate, if it's something you are genuinely passionate about you will make it work BUT… don’t focus on doing it to make big money, sink your love and passion into doing it the best you can, for the love of what you want to do. Great business grows from the authenticity and commitment of the people to start them, don't get too greedy and whatever it is, make sure you focus on making a difference.

In any leadership role, it’s important to listen to people. The greatest, most forgotten, trait of brilliant leaders, is the ability to listen. To remember that leadership is about serving the people who work with you and for you and that ultimately, your job is to find and nurture the talent and skills in others; perversely great leaders should almost do themselves out of a job.

We’ve all had to adapt our business models lately but as businesses, we need to learn to trust people. Let them develop a new flow for how they manage their days, assume excellence; only manage when people need it, don’t just focus on the short term, or plan on springing back into the old normal. You need to make sure you really learn from what has worked and what hasn’t and use the experiences good and bad to evolve.

If you’d like to know more about Richard’s professional career visit his website here, or if you’d like to learn more about him personally, check out his Twitter or Instagram.

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