Leadership with a difference

"The programme made a significant difference in terms of how I operate and what I'll do next."

Sukwinder Bassi

CEO Africa GEMS Education
High Performance People Skills for Leaders programme

Sukwinder Bassi 1440x900 Top

Inspiring, Enabling and Empowering

"In that week I was able to sit back, look at myself and ask, 'How good am I at what I do?'"

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Taking stock

"Throughout my career I’ve worked with some great people and had an upwards trajectory. So the natural inclination when you’re getting promoted regularly is to think that you must be doing all the right things. At the same time, I’m very self-critical. I always push myself hard. And, when you spend time in the education sector, you start to realise that your life and career should remain a lifelong learning experience.

That was my driver for enrolling in the High Performance People Skills for Leaders programme. At GEMS Africa we do amazing work, impacting the lives of thousands of families. A year into my CEO role I felt I needed to take stock and examine my communication, leadership and influencing skills. I lead around 12,500 staff focused on increasing education standards for around 90,000 students, so I was interested to find out where I was in the role, curious about my own understanding and keen to see how I compared with other senior executives, in terms of common leadership abilities. 

Over a 30-year career serving people, I’ve worked for some great companies – organisations like Adidas, B&Q and Tesco – across both the retail and education sectors. Taking part in such an intensive week was a great opportunity to take time out and to revisit and refresh my toolkit. It allowed me to stop, question and re-evaluate – do I use these tools regularly?

One of the really useful things we did was to revisit the GROW model in coaching for performance; I’ve now introduced that to my team and practice it regularly myself. I also  do something called 'checking in and checking out' now a situational leadership tool I’m now using regularly again. All the things I took away have created a measurable and positive impact on the people around me.

When you become a CEO the key to being a good one is often flexibility. Self-awareness is key. The programme helped me understand what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at; by being more aware of areas of weakness I find it easier to ask for help and can navigate my way through any difficulties more effectively. One area I needed to develop was stakeholder management and influencing – the programme’s executive coach, Hilary Gee, was hugely instrumental in helping me manage that. We worked through role plays, I was able to share the challenges I was experiencing and we talked through different approaches as to how I could influence different board members.

As a CEO, I have a lot less time than I did to make judgement calls. But the High Performance People Skills for Leaders programme gave me confidence that, in terms of leadership, I do have what it takes. In feedback, from different exercises and professors, I discovered that my leadership ability is actually really good. It was an enormously important personal affirmation."

Learning for life

"We all have more to learn, and by taking time to focus on ourselves, we have that much more to give."

The confidence to lead

"Nothing really prepares you for leading a company. The confidence I gained doing this programme, a year into my CEO role, was crucial."

Comparing leadership across industries and cultures

"I found the opportunity to learn from CEOs and senior executives, across different sectors and cultures, inspiring."

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Different perspectives

"My career has led me through multiple countries and industries within retail and now education, but the common thread that’s drawn me to my roles has always been people. So I found the opportunity to learn from a range of CEOs and senior executives across different sectors and cultures incredibly inspiring.

Much of our learning was subdivided into small cohorts of five participants – ours included one from Italy, one from Israel, one from the UAE, one from Turkey, and myself – the cultural diversity of this small group alone covered a broad spectrum. We were all very different people working in different industries, but what I found most striking were the commonalities. Our styles varied, but it was helpful to reflect, engage with and bounce ideas off this wonderful group of people all striving for the same content and outcomes. We worked on a number of exercises together, giving real feedback and real support, and in doing so, forged strong and long-lasting friendships.

I also listened and learned on a deeper, more personal level. During that week I was forced to ask myself, am I happy in what I’m doing? My colleagues had found a balance in their lives, but I spend seven days a week travelling around sub-Saharan Africa doing teacher training, opening schools and supporting local government. It’s all hugely rewarding, but from a personal perspective it has a real impact on family and relationships. Coming face to face with others who had managed to get the balance right has helped me find my own balance."

High Performance People Skills for Leaders

Build the confidence and capabilities to lead people and communicate with them more effectively on this highly practical programme.