This month we speak to Dr Rona Mackenzie, Director of Youth Leadership at The Inspirational Development Group. Rona spent 20 years working in schools, starting as a PE teacher and ultimately becoming the Founding Principal of a 14-19 college. She also worked in luxury jewellery and cyber security before joining IDG in November 2021. Rona is passionate about working with people who are interested in developing their wider leadership style and approach, starting with leading themselves. She uses Red2Blue to help her clients get to know themselves, and how they perform under pressure, before considering how they lead others.
Rona discovered Red2Blue through her love of mountaineering. Brought up in Scotland, her dad was a fell runner, so they were always in the mountains. Having done quite a lot of mountaineering herself, Rona was following Red2Blue ambassador, Adriana Brownlee’s climb in Nepal. Adriana was talking about how she loved Red2Blue, which inspired Rona to find out more, leading to her own Red2Blue coach certification.
Leadership understanding should begin at school
Rona believes in helping young people to develop their understanding of leadership – how to lead themselves and others – while they’re still in their formative years. “We tend to learn about leadership when we’re in a job, managing people and realise we don’t know how to do it!” she says. She believes Red2Blue is a great place for people to start considering how they manage themself before thinking about how they interact with others.
“It makes sense, not just for adults but for young people too. How do you cope under pressure? While Adriana’s version of pressure is climbing Everest, everyone if different. It’s helping people to cope with their own version of pressure that’s important.”
Rona’s ability to perform under pressure was put to the test during the year she set up her own College for 14-19 year old science and engineering students. “There were so many things to do and learn about; it was very exciting and very complex and a race against time to be ready for the start of the academic year,” she says. There were no students, no teachers, no curriculum, and it all needed to be built in 12 months.
Whilst she describes it as the most brilliant opportunity of her career, it was also the time when she was under the most pressure: “I needed to ensure these children and their families got the best education they could. I also had to meet the needs of many different stakeholders – the government was funding it and I had to work with the local community and businesses.”
Focus only on what you can control
Rona focused on using her time effectively, planning the domino effect of activities that needed to take place to get things done on time and in a coordinated way. When she came across anything she didn’t know about, she found people to teach her. Her golden rule was to focus, not on what she couldn’t do or the challenge ahead, but on what she could do and could control. This ensured she used her energy in the best and most productive way.
Now that she’s been trained in Red2Blue, Rona realises she’s used a similar approach before, just never formally. “I would say to myself, you can’t control that so stop worrying about it. When I drew the Red2Blue Control Circles and started writing down the things going through my head at that moment in time, it felt like it all made more sense.” The Red2Blue tool helps her to structure things in a logical and thoughtful way rather than an emotional way.
Looking back on her early career, Rona remembers as a new teacher, being concerned about other people and how they felt or what they thought. “I wish I’d had Red2Blue to help me learn that I should channel my energies on the things I can control and can influence,” she says. “That would have taken up less brain space and emotional energy, freeing me up to do other things!”
Make the right decisions under pressure
When Rona was looking to recruit more staff for her college, finding teachers was tricky, with lots of competition and many opportunities for staff. She knew she needed to get the right teachers but there was pressure to do something quickly. “You start to make decisions that might not necessarily be the best longer-term decisions,” she says. “During those four years, when my timeframe for decision-making was shrunk, having the Control Circles would have helped me to stop, think more clearly and take the best rather than the quickest course of action.” Now she uses Red2Blue with her core team to make sure the decisions they make under pressure are the right ones.
Through her youth leadership development work, Rona helps young people to learn about the science of leadership through experiential learning. “I get to know them and understand the needs they have as individuals or as groups and then apply different tools and techniques to help them,” she says. She’s now added Red2Blue to her leadership toolkit and will be using it with young people – individuals and teams – when they need a simple yet highly effective tool to understand how to perform under pressure. Rona likes that fact that Red2Blue is so versatile and applicable to so many different scenarios, not just for people in business, but for use in our everyday lives too.
You can’t change others’ behaviour, only your own
So, what’s the best piece of advice Rona’s ever been given? As a new Deputy Head, she was frustrated that her team weren’t performing as she’d hoped, and her Head at the time asked what she was going to do differently. Rona remembers, “I naively said, ‘They need to change not me,” to which he replied, “You can’t change the behaviour of others, only your own behaviour. So, what are you going to do differently?”
Rona says that was probably the first time she’d actually stopped to consider something that seems so obvious now. “It was all on me to be different. That simple statement helped me to reshape my thinking and, as I adapted my behaviour, it had a positive impact on theirs,” she says. “Once we start to change our language and our thought pattern, people then realise that they’re more in control, because they’re taking positive steps towards creating action, creating change, rather than sitting back and assuming someone else will do something differently. I’ve always carried this with me and it’s my go-to piece of advice for others.”
To find out more about the programmes Rona runs, visit https://www.inspirationaldevelopment.com.