This week has been my second week as the Chief Executive of New Horizon Youth Centre, the fantastic and much needed youth homelessness charity in Somerstown, Camden.
For most of us living and working in London it’s easy to be oblivious to the extent of people experiencing homelessness here. Every time we look out of the train window we see a construction site, every time we get to work we see cranes across the skyline, when we finish work the telly goes on, the oven warms up and we sit on the sofa blissfully unaware of the fact that around 13,000 people find themselves without somewhere to call home every night in this city, many of who are aged 16-24.
So it’s no surprise that every day at the centre new people come to us in search of help. Last year alone we supported over 1700 young people who’ve had nowhere else to turn. Their stories are all different (family breakdown, domestic abuse, gang violence, poverty to name a few) but one thing unites them: their hope for a better future.
Earlier this week a young man (let’s call him Stefan though that clearly isn’t his real name) came to us for the first time and I happened to be at the door when he came in. Stefan was shy, clearly nervous and, as it transpired, had been sleeping rough by bedding down all alone each night in an industrial estate. I’ve seen him every day since, arriving at the centre early ready for the next stage of the support we offer, visibly growing, making more eye contact and gaining hope. We’ve built rapport in this time in our respective newcomer roles at the centre, and on reflecting on my first weeks, he’s reminded me of the most important lesson in leadership for new Chief Executives like me - the importance of first impressions.
Get the vision right, bring everyone with you and do what you say you are going to do.
Phil Kerry, New Horizon Youth Centre's new CEO
Before starting at New Horizon I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would go about my entry into the organisation. What would I want to achieve in my first week? How did I want to be on my first day? What would I say to the team here on the very first morning? I was helpfully recommended a book called The First 90 Days by Harvard Business School (Barack Obama gets 100 days to prove himself so why do I only get 90?) which also emphasised the need for a good start. Get it right and you’re on your way. Get it wrong and it could take months, even years to unravel. No pressure then.
The importance of getting the right tone is emphasised in my favourite leadership definition too. When there are literally thousands of books on leadership all claiming to have the answer, I am all for simplicity and Steve Radcliffe’s definition is just that: future, engage, deliver. Get the vision right, bring everyone with you and do what you say you are going to do. So I’ve spent my first two weeks here engaging the team and trustees, listening more than I talk, learning from the young people we support and being clear on my values. I hope through doing this I have set some good first impressions and in doing so I – and we - can build a sense on momentum.
When I asked Stefan what he’d thought of his first days at New Horizon a smile broke across his face. He said that he’d actually found it overwhelming. Everywhere he’d been for help before had treated him like a problem, everyone had seen him as a number to process through a system. But when he’d walked through the door at the centre he was flooded with a warm welcome, genuine offers of support and a sense that that everyone there cared deeply.
It’s that first impression that has kept Stefan coming back each day and enabled him to build his own sense of momentum. I’ve no doubt that it’s what made thousands of others build their momentum too - it’s what has made me build mine.
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