Jabeer Butt, Deputy Chief Executive, Race Equality Foundation (originally published in Outlook edition 64, summer 2015)

For some years now I have watched the rise of an individual through the ranks and into leadership roles. Often I have feigned academic interest in charting his meteoric rise, but the truth is, there has been more than a little jealousy.  Nevertheless, his progress has made me wonder about ‘modern’ leaders and what we understand to be good or effective leadership.  A potted history of this individual’s professional rise would show him moving from one organisation to another every three or four years. His departures have almost always been marked by statements as to how, under his leadership, the organisation has been ‘transformed’.  I do not possess independent proof either way, but what has always struck me has been the speed with which ‘transformation’ has been delivered.

My work has been about delivering transformational change too.  One stream has focussed on support with parenting for black and minority ethnic families, specifically improving the availability of effective parent education programmes.  When Race Equality Foundation began this particular journey a study was published by Smith (1996) which highlighted that the majority of people accessing parent education programmes were mothers, often from white, middle-class backgrounds.  While there is no one study which updates this, myriad evidence suggests significant change.  Various reports evaluating national programmes such as the “Parenting Early Intervention Pathfinders (PIEPS)” and “CANParent” show that black and minority ethnic parents are not only accessing parent education programmes, but that these programmes are working.  Importantly, the Foundation’s “Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities” (SFSC) programme has gone further. Upwards of 59 per cent of programmes have at least one father participate, reaching those families that are experiencing poverty. Around 63 per cent of participants live in households with an annual income of approximately £10,000. The programme works across a range of black and minority ethnic communities, newly-arrived East European communities and white majority communities.

The Foundation’s work has been key in leading this change.  We recognised that there was a viable solution to the poor or limited provision up to the end of the 1990s. It was also recognised that it was not sufficient to have a curriculum that would attract, engage and retain black and minority ethnic parents, but that it needed to be provided by a diverse, skilled workforce in settings where parents felt comfortable and trusted. We secured funds to train and then support a range of black and minority ethnic-led voluntary and community organisations to deliver the programme, resulting in exponential growth from 20 programmes in 2000 to over 200 by 2004.  This ‘demonstration’ of successful engagement had a catalytic impact on mainstream organisations working with parents (the Sure Starts, Children’s Centres and the Youth Offending Teams). This again bred significant growth (over 420 programmes by 2008) as well as inclusion of the programme in government initiatives such as PIEPS.

We fed the lessons learnt into a range of initiatives, securing black and minority ethnic families as a priority for each round of the Parenting Fund, further ensuring that the National Occupational Standards for Working with Parents recognised the competencies needed to work with all parents. We also highlighted the limitations of policies such as “Every Child Matters”, pointing out that none of the outcomes could be achieved without parents, eventually leading to “Every Parent Matters”.

The period since May 2010 has demonstrated how transformative our work has been.  While the programme funding which supported the expansion of parent education programmes has virtually disappeared at the same time as significant cuts in local government budgets, our SFSC programmes continue to be delivered. The numbers of SFSC programmes delivered has dropped from a high point in 2009-10, but even in 2014-15 around 410 programmes were delivered reaching over 4000 diverse group of parents and impacting over 6000 children.

Though it has taken over 15 years to achieve, it appears the change we have delivered has not been transient but transformational.  I would argue that we have transformed the sector as a whole: parents accessing programmes are more diverse; and those delivering programmes are more diverse. I would also argue that we have achieved this through providing leadership. I am not sure our leadership which entirely echoed the traits of great leaders that Andrew Carnegie has identified (see table 1), but there was much about our approach that chimes with it.

Table 1:  31 traits all great leaders share according to Andrew Carnegie, collated by Napoleon Hill

1. They have a definite purpose and a definite plan for attaining it.

2. They have a motive that continuously drives them. 

3. They surround themselves with talented people who share their vision.

4. They are able to be self-reliant.

5. They have intense self-discipline.

6. They are persistent.

7. They are creative.

8. They are decisive.

9. They collect all possible facts before making judgments.

10. They are enthusiastic.

11. They are fair.

12. They have an open mind.

13. They go beyond what is required of them.

14. They are tactful.

15. They listen more than they speak.

16. They pay attention to detail.

17. They are determined.

18. They can take criticism.

19. They know when to restrain themselves.

20. They are loyal.

21. They know when to speak frankly.

22. They understand others' motivations.

23. They are exceptionally likable.

24. They are focused.

25. They learn from mistakes.

26. They assume responsibility for the mistakes of their subordinates.

27. They recognize the achievements of others.

28. They treat others the way they would like to be treated.

29. They are optimistic.

30. They assume responsibility for the actions of their entire team.

31. They are able to act without being guided by emotion.



We had a plan, which drew on the lessons from a two year study of the use of family centres that I completed with Leandra Box.  We also drew on a range of other studies that both identified what did not work (workshops, programmes requiring proficiency in English) as well as what did (group based programmes with a structured curriculum; an appropriate trained workforce, including men; engagement of black and minority ethnic-led voluntary organisations; addressing practical barriers such as child care). We were certainly persistent, creative and decisive. In securing an evidence-based curriculum that worked with a range of black and minority ethnic communities, we understood that we needed to build a quality assurance process around it that would encourage high quality delivery as well as ensure the fidelity of the programme was maintained.  The attention we paid to detail of all aspects of the programme did not stop us making mistakes.  However, we did take responsibility for those mistakes and learn from them.  The translation of the parent manual into Somali proved fraught with difficulty, not least because this was a language that hadn’t been written down for about 30 years.  However, we learnt and now have approaching 20 translations with most being used regularly in England.

Most importantly for us, we set out to improve the support of parenting received by black and minority ethnic families. In demonstrating this could be done effectively, we implemented a programme that has been successful in reaching fathers, reaching white and black minority ethnic families who are experiencing poverty and impacting both teenage parents as well as parents of teenagers.  The evidence suggests that good leadership has delivered diversity.

To conclude, this wealth of evidence and practice has allowed us to show leadership in public debates. We were able to challenge those who blamed the riots of 2011 on feral children and feckless parents, at the same time as challenging those who had resorted to violence to recognise that this was not a realistic solution.  Carnegie was right to suggest that a trait of a good leader is someone who listens more then they speak, but he was also right when he said good leaders know when to speak frankly. The past five years have been tough for many of the parents and children we work with, but it appears the next five will be even tougher. This is the time when we have to show true leadership and speak out frankly about the impact on the wellbeing of children and their families of a further round of austerity.