I heard Camilla Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company speak to guests of the computing giant RM at the recent BETT show. She was an inspired choice, confessing to a total ignorance of technology. But she went on to display clear understanding of what it can do for children who have lost faith in most of the things human beings want to tell them. Her confidence and presence led me to wonder about her as leader of a challenging organisation.
Kids Company works with about 6,000 vulnerable children a year, in 25 London schools. It calls on the services of nearly 700 adult volunteers. So what sort of leadership, I wondered, did this involve? I phoned her to ask, and I wasn't entirely surprised by the answer. "My style is to seek to release people's excellence without trying to control them," she says.
I pressed her for an example and she told me about an artist she took on who was too messy and untidy for the primary school he was working in. At Kids Company, they make sure he's in places and in time slots where his untidiness isn't an issue. "We find he's an absolute genius, though," says Camilla. "Brilliant with the kids. He made a huge reindeer with them, on wheels, and they pulled it all across Hackney for children to ride on Christmas Day."
I'd say that's worth a bit of spilt paint. Camilla believes in "leading by emotions rather than by structures". If you think that's just too touchy-feely, consider these words from Tom Peters, a management expert revered the world over: "The chief criterion for managerial promotion should be the degree to which a candidate takes his or her greatest pleasure in helping others develop and grow. Across the board, then, it turns out that the essence of management is its emotional side."
Camilla gave me the longest pause for thought when she spoke of the way the emotional strength of the care system - including schools - has been depleted. "Most people go in with emotional aspirations," she says.
"Without them, they can't have hope on behalf of the children."
Tom Peters on emotional management: www.league.orgpublicationabstracts leadershiplabs0589.html
Kids Company: www.kidsco.org.uk