Positive Prison? Positive Futures: Adapting leadership styles

Pete White was the person with the idea behind Positive Prison? Positive Futures. He helped set up the organisation and has been responsible for building many and varied links within the criminal justice system. He attended our Just Enterprise New Start Leadership (now Developing Social Entrepreneurs) programme in 2013-14  www.positiveprison.org


 

During six months in prison for embezzlement Pete White started helping people as a tutor in the library. He soon realised what he was doing wasn’t just about literacy; he was helping learners to develop as people.

At that point Pete knew that he wanted to help prisoners and ex offenders to go straight.

When he started doing workshops Pete got an encouraging response from prisoners and policy makers but he felt people didn’t take them seriously. “We were just a bunch of guys.”

That bunch of guys is now Positive Prison? Positive Futures, an expanding social enterprise that is having a big impact on people’s lives and driving changes in the criminal justice system.

Pete said, “There is a lot of discrimination, stigma, a lack of trust and poor expectations of people in prison. What we do is focus on the idea that we can help people realise they can develop and build their confidence and self esteem.”

 

The motivation

The enterprise is going from strength to strength with growing income from projects and training as well as increased core funding from the Government and Scottish Prison Service as well as grant funding to provide mentoring.

For Pete helping others is his life’s work now. But as the enterprise expands, he needed some support on a more personal level.

Since he completed the Just Enterprise New Start Leadership Course he has found it transformed his vision.

“It gave me a framework to let things evolve that I might have missed because it just wasn’t on my radar. And I realised I was not alone. Others are in the same boat."

He said, “It gave me a framework to let things evolve that I might have missed because it just wasn’t on my radar. And I realised I was not alone. Others are in the same boat. It was utterly brilliant at helping me to work better with people. It helped me hugely.”

As an entrepreneur one of Pete’s greatest strengths is his ability to coordinate others and bring out the best in them. At the same time one of the hardest things about leading the team is to manage expectations.

He said, “For most of the people I work with the experience of being treated as an equal is new. They often tend to feel they are disadvantaged or only see what they can’t do. Suddenly their voice is heard. The course helped me to coordinate better and bring together the skills of others in a more strategic way.”

“As an example, I learned how to think of how others like to learn. Just because I want something done doesn’t mean it’s going to be done the way I want it. I need to fine tune the way I ask so that helps to motivate others to do what I need done.”

For Pete the vision is radical - to put the enterprise out of business by training both staff and inmates at prisons across Scotland until rehabilitation is embedded in the system. To get there Pete wanted to raise the bar as a leader.

The biggest challenge on the course was learning about awareness of emotional intelligence and different learning styles.

"I learned how to think of how others like to learn. Just because I want something done doesn’t mean it’s going to be done the way I want it."

“We work with a wide range of individuals, most of whom are or have been socially marginalised so sharing information and conversation with them needs to be done in a careful manner to facilitate understanding without being patronising in any way.

“It challenged me to follow up my intuitive processes with a more reasoned analysis of what I’ve just dreamt up! Mind mapping helped with this.”

Thanks to action learning sets Pete was able to resolve a staff issue. “Before the course I would have tackled it head on in what could have been a more confrontational manner! I adopted a more co-operative approach.”

 

The impact

Pete realised that it would be helpful to others if he was calmly assertive in his role as leader. “Prior to the course I was inclined to try to be ‘one of the guys’ which caused confusion when I tried to be the boss.

The big impact for Pete has been finding the right balance between making decisions and involving others. “I had appointed new members of staff without reference to my trustees. Having previously been too dependent on them for guidance I veered too far the other way and got my knuckles rapped and rightly so! I have since worked very hard at effective delegation and accept the fact that even though I had thought I was giving clear direction others didn’t always see it that way.”

“There were some tough lessons on the course. The facilitator was great. I would say it was the best training course I have ever been on.”

 
ILM
HIE
Living Wage
Scottish Government