My journey to become a young leader began when I saw a previous winner’s presentation at the Young Leaders Experience.
'Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right.' - Henry Ford
I'm very fortunate. I'm under no illusions about this. I'm ambitious and increasingly confident; but I haven't always been.
When I started working in housing back in 2007, I was not. My employer, however, built up my confidence. Whether that was from the first person who really saw potential in me (Jack Davis), I'm not sure. What I do know is that from taking on my first position of seniority in 2008, my confidence grew. I started doing things every day that scared me – and I still do.
I remember attending my first ever Young Leaders Experience in 2014. It was there that I saw a presentation by Hannah Allen, Head of Customer Involvement and Community Development at Aster. Hannah won the 2013 24 Housing and National Housing Federation Young Leader of the Year Award. She absolutely blew me away – and everyone else in the room. She addressed perhaps 100 or so young people with such conviction and authority that I knew my confidence had some way to go. I wanted to be on that stage, I wanted to speak with the same conviction she did – but the very thought of it scared me.
Over the next couple of years my employer invested in me. I was given increasing amounts of responsibility and I never turned a challenge down and over time, more opportunities arose.
In 2016 my employer put me forward for the Young Leader of the Year award and, to my surprise, I made it through to the final stage with four other exceptional candidates. We were to present in Auditorium 1 of the ICC in Birmingham which seats up 1,500 delegates. It's not until you stand on that stage and look out into the room that you realise the sheer scale of it.
I've said I do things every day that scare me but nothing scared me as much as this. About an hour or so prior to the final presentations, I set off walking from the ICC to get some fresh air. I must have walked miles away from it. I remember thinking to myself, 'what if I just don't go back?'
I did go back.
I presented to that audience a snapshot of a world that is alien to some of us. It was a snapshot of the future.
I've since watched the video of that presentation a few times, and I can hear conviction. I look at the photos taken of me on that stage, and I see some authority.
David Orr spoke to us before those presentations. He told us a story. Once, someone had asked him what he does. He answered, 'I inspire people.'
If I have inspired even one person the way that Hannah Allen inspired me back in 2014, then this adventure has been all worthwhile.
It's worth remembering that my journey to this position didn't start when I was nominated. It started when I saw Hannah Allen speak at the Young Leaders Experience in 2014.
I rarely give advice, but on this occasion I will.
Firstly, to our current leaders: if you are in a position of authority, please consider sending your young leaders to the Young Leaders Experience in September this year. If the competition continues to improve the way it has, then the talent and inspiration that will be on show this year will be phenomenal.
Secondly, to the young people of our sector. I'll leave you with a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt who said, 'do one thing every day that scares you.'
Heaven knows how, but it works.