This month’s Coach Spotlight takes us across the pond to meet Hone coach and poet Lanre Sulola. While Lanre has always had a passion for empowering others, he started his career as an accountant at PwC. It wasn’t until he joined a government initiative to connect black men and boys with positive role models that he realized his love for teaching. When the program ended, Lanre got more involved with workplace training and ultimately shifted his career to help businesses design and deliver impactful training and change initiatives for their employees.
Today, Lanre is a speaker, communicator, and spoken-word poet based in London. He loves inspiring people to fulfill their leadership goals and setting them up with the resources they need to grow. When he’s not busy teaching, you will find him connecting with family or friends, keeping active, or writing poetry. We chatted with Lanre about his role, his thoughts on the future of work, and more. Here’s what he had to say:
What trends do you see in the world of work?
Working remotely has been a really hot topic this year for obvious reasons. People want to know how to adjust, how to keep relationships, how to work effectively, and how to create a sense of belonging. There’s a huge focus on remote working and how this period of time will change the modern workplace when things go back to “normal.”
Inclusion as well has been a huge area of discussion. The George Floyd incident and the Black Lives Matter movement have forced people to focus more on systemic racism and realize how far away we are from equality. Companies are discussing what this means for leaders, employees, and customers and trying to understand the biases and policies that are holding us back. People are more open to having these conversations and understanding how we can level the playing field. I think those are two workplace issues that will continue to be talked about well into the future.
How did you get your start in teaching?
I actually used to be an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and about two years into that role, I came across a government program in the United Kingdom called the REACH Role Model Program. The program aimed to raise aspirations and attainment of Black boys and young Black men by connecting them with positive role models. I applied and was chosen as one of 20 participants to speak with different groups across the country and share my story. We were supposed to inspire the boys by showing that if I could be successful and if I could move forward in my career then they could too. I was going to different schools, prisons, colleges, and churches to share my story. It was really fulfilling and I felt like I was having an impact and deeply connecting with people. My love for teaching really grew from there.
I went back to my workplace and I used my new love of talking, teaching, and sharing a message to get more involved in our corporate social responsibility programs and internal training programs and built on it from there. A few years down the line, I moved into training full-time.
Why are you passionate about leadership development?
I’m really interested in people and how people think, grow, and develop. I believe that where you are now doesn’t have to dictate where you’re going to be in the future. I believe that anyone can change and grow if they are given the right environment and the right resources.
In many ways, it’s similar to growing a plant. If you put someone in the right environment and give them the right amount of sunlight and water, they’re going to grow into something beautiful. If you don’t give them those resources, they’ll shrivel and die. I think being in this space lets you make a difference in someone’s life. You can set them up with the resources they need to grow, develop, and do more. That’s something that’s really powerful to be involved in.
What is one actionable takeaway you want your students to leave your class with?
That feeling that change is possible and that their goals are achievable. I want them to feel whatever goals they set, they can reach with the right focus, attention, tools, and support. I want them to believe that they can get to where they want to be. They don’t have to stay where they are in life, in an organization, in society, wherever. I want them to feel energized, inspired, and motivated to make their goals a reality.
What’s your favorite part of working at Hone?
I love having conversations with a whole variety of people. Whether that’s someone in the UK, US, or India – being able to have conversations with people all over the world that are facing similar situations is really exciting to me. As a Hone facilitator, I get to take all those experiences and perspectives that my students have and use them up to create really dynamic conversations. People are so open and honest about what they’re experiencing and that collaborative aspect of Hone’s classes really inspires me. People want to do better and they want to help each other. You really see the good side of people.
I also love working with a team of people that share my passion for teaching and learning. Every day, I feel like I’m learning and growing, while also making a difference. That all makes working at Hone quite fun.
What is the best lesson you’ve ever been taught?
It’s to have confidence in yourself and in who you are. It’s important to always bring that to the table and never worry about what other people may say or think. If you dim your light to fit in or try to be someone else then you’re hiding what makes you special, different, and unique. Not only does that make everyone lose, but you’ll also never really fit in that way.
You have to trust that by being yourself, you can make an impact. When I’ve gone into a situation with confidence and brought my natural self to the table, that’s when I’ve connected most with other people and been able to build relationships, as well as trust and respect.
Who is someone who inspires you?
There are so many people that have inspired me, but a name that always jumps out is Barack Obama, the first black president in the United States. He’s definitely someone I look up to. He’s a great speaker and I’d love to have influence like that, to be able to deliver messages with his conviction, poise, calmness, and authority.
He’s had challenges and naysayers, but it always seems like his actions are in line with and true to his goals, values, and purpose – not just in his professional life, but also in his family life. What he places value on he protects and looks after.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I like sports, like football—or soccer as you guys call it in the US!—tennis, and cycling. I love music and I sing and write poetry. I spend a lot of time with my family, my kids keep me busy. We’re always going on trips or just running around the park or the garden. I love hanging out with friends and just being around other people. Other people really energize me so I try to spend my free time around others as much as possible.
What’s something your learners and colleagues probably don’t know about you?
I try to be quite open! People might know this because I might have let it slip out, but I do spoken word poetry. I’ve made poetry CDs, a book (On The Way To Somewhere: Memoirs of a Poet), a short film, and a play. It’s something I’m really interested in and passionate about. People have even asked me to write and perform at birthdays and weddings.
I’ve always been into music and done creative stuff, but I remember watching Def Poetry Jam and being so impressed by the powerful messages everyone was sharing. It inspired me to give it a try. My first job required a lot of traveling and because I was on my own quite a bit I’d write in hotels. I wrote one piece I was particularly proud of and I decided to perform it. I got a really good reaction from it and continued to write and it grew from there!
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