Pedram Parasmand

Pedram has worked in the area of personal and professional development for over 5 years and previously taught in South East London. He creates environments that supports others become more self-aware and develop skills to lead fulfilled and meaningful lives. He is interested in approaches that look at the whole person—not just what they are doing, but who they are being. His work is inspired amongst other things by Authentic Leadership, behavioural science and mindfulness. He is currently training with CTI as a ‘co-active’​ coach.

He is a co-founder and Director of The Skills Lab, a start-up which aims to facilitates cultural change in organisations that allow people to develop the soft-skills needed to learn, work and lead happy lives. He has previously worked at Teach First where he designed and trained others to deliver workshops and programmes in areas of self-awareness, mindset, and leadership. He was also the Programme Director for the Governor Impact Programme.

He is a founding trustee of Spark+Mettle. He is also a school Governor at Spa Special school in Southwark where he chairs the Education Committee. He holds a Masters in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College London.

What was the first role you had in which you had to manage or support other people?

It was over ten years ago when I was a teacher. I supported people in departments informally, as well as all the students.

How did you learn to support other people?

Through trial and error. It wasn’t formal. I don’t even think I even thought about it too explicitly at the time either.

How has your style changed about supporting or managing other people in this last decade?

In the last decade, I’ve tried to become much less directive. It becomes a much more collaborative approach where people have the space to be able to make their own decisions, to grow within the role that they’re doing, and they also have ownership departments as well.

What were the problems about being directive?

It was just too much hard work. Honestly I didn’t feel like people had ownership of the things that they were doing. I would constantly be chasing up and checking that they’re doing something, making it much harder. Recently I’ve worked in a way that enables people to collaboratively come together and create this big project from scratch. Then we attribute who is doing what, we’re clear about what needs to be done by when and by whom.

That way it just keeps things moving without me getting involved too much, if that makes sense. It’s not that I’m taking a step back. It’s just I’ve got the overview; I’m not getting too involved in the detail. I’ve just set the scope and the boundaries and let people do whatever they want with it.

Are there any other techniques or approaches that you’ve taken up or discarded for supporting others?

I’m still experimenting now. When it comes to check ins with team members, sometimes it’s really up to them to talk about whatever they want to talk about whether it’s their role or their personal development. But some things end up slipping. So recently I’ve played around with the format, given it some structure by focusing on annual objectives and leaving space for conversation around them.

Paolo Freire was a proponent of a co-designed approach to education. To what extend do you involve your team in the design of a project that they are working on? What are the benefits and limitations of this approach?

I think creates a space for creativity and much more collaboration. It also encourages risk taking and people pushing themselves a bit more. I never want to ever create that illusion or a sense that people think that I know it all. I might have this position of responsibility but I’m process facilitating this and everybody’s opinion is just as valid. But it takes a lot longer. Sometimes what I might see as a very simple fix to a problem might take a half hour chat with someone to find their own solution. But once you get to the other end you hope that the impact is that the learning has stuck a bit more and you don’t have to go through it again.

Is there a difference between how you help teams or groups of people and then how you work with individuals?

I see them both as the same thing in my context. It starts off as a team thing and then it devolves into individuals. I use a coaching approach. I say to the team, “What does success look like and what should the objectives and outcomes be?” However I have my own ideas and everything which I will chip in which makes me more of a process facilitator rather than a coach.

I’m not precious about my role. I don’t want other people to not feel like they’re growing if I’m working with them.

How do you go about setting expectations?

I have an open and transparent conversation at the beginning. I ask team members to answer four questions.

  • What does success look like?
  • What’s my role in it?
  • When does it need to be done by?
  • How much time do I need to spend on it?

Does your organisation have any approaches or processes for recognizing character strengths and soft skills?

We’ve got ten competency areas that we use to reflect on and it’s quite rigorous. Every grade has a description of what the expectations are for your personal and professional competencies. Then you report against those. It forms part of your appraisal rating. You get appraised at the end of the year by how well you’ve met your role objectives and how well you’ve met your professional competencies. Then based on that, you can see areas of strengths and weakness. The ones that are developmental areas form part of your professional development plan which I then try to refer back to in check-ins. But this is based on areas for improvement as opposed to improving the strengths people already have. I’ve actually been trying to work with strengths but it is complicated.

How would you define a teacher?

For me the old concept of the teacher is defunct. It’s different now. The attitude that “I have got this stuff in my head that you need to put in your heads” does not work anymore. No teacher can any longer proclaim to know it all. To me, a teacher is someone who facilitates the growth of other people’s knowledge and skills.

Is teaching or education an aspect of leadership?

I see the parallel in terms of what I think teachers should be and in terms of what I describe leaders to also be. In my role and in my team as a facilitator I’m aware that I don’t have all the current knowledge or perspectives that other people do. It’s about creating and holding the space where people to feel empowered to bring all of themselves to their work and have a sense of ownership over it, so they feel that they have a stake in it. For me, leading people is about being an enabler; and I’m still on a my own journey to learn how to best bring the best out of people for common good.

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