Friday, 18 September 2015

Leadership with The Living Leader

This month’s Newbury Business News contains our interview with the utterly inspiring Penny Ferguson of the Living Leader.

Over the last 20 years inspirational Penny Ferguson has helped to transform the lives of nearly 50,000 people with her world-famous Personal Leadership Programme.

Penny, who lives in Newbury, is a familiar figure to many corporates and has written two bestsellers on leadership - The Living Leader and 52 Brilliant Ideas – How to Transform your Life. She and her team of eight now deliver training programmes via the Living Leader from their base at Greenham Business Park, Newbury, to big companies, colleges and other organisations across the globe. And now, with the help of her daughter Emma, Penny also wants to influence young people to take responsibility and create better lives for themselves.

But things haven’t always been easy for 72-year-old Penny who has had to overcome a series of intensely traumatic experiences. Prior to a life-changing decision one day in 1995 to change her way of thinking, Penny led a life that wouldn’t have been out of place in a TV soap. Her own mother abandoned her when she was a four-month-old baby, and Penny was sent to boarding school at an early age where she was bullied. She was later raped at the age of 18 and then married three times with six children by the age of 30. Left penniless by three divorces, she decided to turn her life around when she received the devastating news that one of her sons had died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of just 26.

The emotionally-battered housewife realised that something had to change and that something was her.

She said: “For me, there was a pivotal moment when I stood back and evaluated my life one day when out walking the dogs. I took a long hard look at where I was right then and didn’t like what I saw. I recognised at that moment that I was blaming outside circumstances for everything that had happened to me, avoiding the obvious common denominator – me! It’s this insight that enabled me to develop the Personal Leadership Programme.”

Her philosophy revolves around three key ways of thinking; that you choose your own thoughts; you need to understand responsibility at a far deeper level and recognising your own communication and its impact.

Penny adds: “The example I often give is that if you’re stuck at a standstill in traffic for a few hours, you’re likely to be in a bad mood when you get home, probably spoiling everyone’s life around you. But traffic is traffic – it’s you who has chosen to get angry. You choose your thoughts, no one else does. You can blame the traffic and shout or you could listen to a CD or plan a presentation. Once you take control, you are then making the choice and being a leader.”

Penny believes that younger people in particular have a tendency to point the finger at circumstances outside themselves, and has recently started work with a charity called Get Connected to try to support young people turning their lives around. The Living Leader has recently supported Get Connected with a £10,000 sponsorship and her daughter Emma, who is the commercial director at the Living Leader took part in the Luxembourg leg. Penny herself gave a motivational speech at the event, giving her backing in order to share her leadership know-how with a very committed audience.

Penny said: “If there is one refrain that I hear again and again when I am running The Personal Leadership Programme, it is ‘I wish I had learnt this when I was younger’. At The Living Leader we are passionate about helping young people and that is why we now sponsor this amazing organisation that provides help to many disadvantaged young people – I wish it had been in existence when I was growing up.

“I know with an absolute certainty that if we can give young people the opportunities to be heard, to be supported, to be given the skills that will enable them to motivate themselves, they can become outstanding leaders of tomorrow.”

“Growing up I guess I was pretty confused about what I wanted to be or do, either at work or play. My self-esteem was incredibly low and when I was in my fifties, I had finally come out of three pretty abusive marriages, was in debt and altogether a pretty good mess.

“It was only then that I began to discover my real purpose and the last 20 years have been an amazing journey of learning, succeeding, real joy and a feeling of true worth. Apart from having six beautiful children I would have to consider that much of those 50 years were wasted even though I have taken much of that time as painful learning that I can use to this very day.

“If there had been people that I could talk to when I had been in the painful early stages of discovering who I really was and how I could move past the really unhelpful beliefs that then held me back for so many years. I am very certain that my life would have turned out differently and maybe I would have quickly learnt how to avoid such obvious repeating patterns of abuse. I could have truly changed my thinking and certainly changed my life.”

The Personal Leadership Programme is much acclaimed by professionals and heads of industry with massive improvements in turnover reported, but more importantly, feedback such as “improved motivation, more openness, brilliant ideas, a real team now developing, higher quality decisions and improved relationships.” Penny admits to huge pride from a recent conversation with a young person who took part in the programme as part of a college project. Disengaged and isolated at the beginning, after the programme, he told Penny that he was now much happier and enjoying a better relationship with his father.

“What changed?” she asked him. “I did”, he said.

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