Leading the way to the future

Aman Merchant, CEO of Future Leadership Academy tells us we shouldn’t underestimate the power of kids leadership skills, and that if we nuture these skills – amazing things can happen

Interview, Education
Interview, Education
Interview, Education

Aman Merchant, CEO of Future Leadership Academy tells us we shouldn’t underestimate the power of kids leadership skills, and that if we nuture these skills – amazing things can happen.

Please tell us a bit about Future Leadership Academy.
Future Leadership Academy (FLA) is a pioneering social venture to accelerate future leadership potential in children and youth aged three to 24 based in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. It is a school of thinking, a youth social innovation incubator, a positive change agent, a community builder, a business school, a think-tank and a research centre - all rolled into one! Our mandate is for ages three to 24, but for now, we are focused on the three to 13 segment, where we feel the greatest impact can be had.

What is the overall goal of FLA programmes for kids?
Our programmes are designed to provide young children a 10-20 years head start on their leadership journeys in a structured and scientific manner, to help them become effective and ethical leaders. Typically, we don’t get exposed to leadership development until at least 25 years of age. Similarly for the development of thinking - most educational environments teach you what to think, not how to think!

An educational after school programme?! The child inside us can see it now – “booooring!” What kinds of activities do the kids get involved in - is there any fun to be had?
Even though we often offer our programs as an after-school activity, we are anything but an educational program in the typical mould, and participants realise that in the first 15 minutes. Our programs are experiential, based on the Socratic method (not instructional), use an active and accelerated learning methodology, and have less than 10% ‘lecture’ time. Each session has two to four activities. It provides multi-sensory experiences that include macro-motor skills, micro-motor skills, and engaging intellectual challenge—plus a media component, so as to engage all types of learning styles. Kids enjoy this type of learning, and research says that we learn more when we’re enjoying ourselves.

Who are the teachers and what is their background and qualifications?
FLA requires certification for its trainers, who in turn develop small group ‘Koaches.’  These people are selected on three primary characteristics: their ability to lead, their ability to facilitate (rather than teach or lecture) as well as their heart for working with preteens and/or teens. Our Koaches are trained to ask strategic questions that engage the kids, instead of merely giving them the answers. Every activity includes short interactions where the Trainer or Koach and kids ‘unpack’ the concept being learned. Koaches are trained not to talk more than 25% of the time, thus emphasising the kids interaction.

How does FLA differ to other educational programmes in the market and why should parents and kids choose you over anyone else?
A follow up to this could be that my kids are already in sports, music, and dance lessons. Why should I consider leadership training? If you’re like most parents, you want to provide for your child’s social development and success in life. Let’s be honest though, most of the extracurricular activities we provide for do not significantly equip them for the future. For example, hundreds of thousands of kids play organised baseball. However, 97% of youth won’t play baseball beyond high school - only 4% of high school basketball players will go on to play college ball.  Only 1% of them will receive a Division I scholarship, but of those, only 1% will ever play in the NBA.  Are the thousands of dollars paid for fees, equipment, and lessons wasted? Probably not since some of the skills learned may ‘travel’. But doesn’t it make sense to invest in training that will last a lifetime and can pay off with improved work opportunities and organisational roles? Top universities are looking for leadership experience in their applicants, in addition to strong grade and test scores. Same thing goes for top employers. And if you are looking to ‘raise’ entrepreneurs, leadership is critical. Whatever we invest our time and money in comes down to priorities.

Is there anything else that we haven’t asked that you’d like to tell us about?
A final thought for some sceptics out there who may ask whether kids really learn how to lead, it seems so unrealistic. Well, those who are motivated and have the right aptitude really can. You can often detect leadership aptitude in early socialising, at preschool and even before. Teachers tell you that a few kids tend to have significantly more influence than others in their classrooms. This can be a benefit or a pain, depending if the influence is positive or negative. What we’re finding at FLA is that we tend to significantly under estimate a child’s ability to both learn leadership and to lead, because for the most part we haven’t developed it. Throughout history and in most cultures, adulthood begins around the ages 13 and 14. The Pygmalion concept teaches us that people become as they are treated. When you respond to a preteen with leadership abilities as if he or she is a leader, some pretty amazing things can happen.
Future Leadership Academy. www.futureleadershipacademy.org (04 367 1777).

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