Blog Series – Local Hero – Kul Mahay

Picture courtesy of Kul Mahay

As part of my local hero series, I caught up with Kul Mahay, emotional intelligence leader, and speaker of Ignite Your Inner Potential.

From being a young police cadet to becoming one of the area’s most sought after speakers and leadership trainers, Kul shared some of his thoughts and experiences with me in this blog.

Enjoy!

You spent 32 years within the police service, with the recent BLM uprising and talks of systemic racism, what was your experience of this within the police?

I joined the police service as a Police Cadet at the tender age of 16, moving from my hometown of Wolverhampton to a strange new environment in Derbyshire which was almost exclusively white. 

Having come from a very diverse and multi-cultural city to find myself in Ripley, Derbyshire (where our Headquarters were) was like jumping into a lake of frozen water! It certainly woke me up!

At the time, it was an environment where the only people of colour that I remember seeing were some of the fellow cadets I had joined up with and a local corner shop. 

We were just a year away from one of the most memorable industrial disputes in the history of the country, the miners’ strikes.

My two years as a cadet were incredibly eye-opening, not just because it was a highly disciplined environment where I was required to wake up extremely early, march on parade, go through uniform and bed inspections and iron my own clothes but also how others perceived me.

I recall that, outside of the relatively safe environment of Training School, I met real cops during that period and my first taste of leaders. Some stood out for me for their sheer brilliance as leaders, embracing diversity fully and only judging me for the person that I was, with some even taking me under the wing to mentor me. 

However, I also met those who seemed outraged that I was allowed to be a part of the police service. I recall playing on a snooker table at the HQ bar one evening when a group of police officers came in and told me that I didn’t belong there and that the snooker table was ‘out of bounds’ for the likes of me.

I’ve been called ‘Paki’ innumerable times by others and told to ‘go back home’. Yet there were others who were more subtle in their approach, perhaps they were ignorant or genuinely curious. As I developed courage I started responding with the general cockiness of a teenager when asked the question, ‘so where are you from?’ My retort would be ‘from Wolverhampton’ which left many perplexed.

The miners’ strike saw police officers in their 1000s arriving from around the country and other forces to ‘camp’ out at our headquarters and I saw that the concept of diversity was even more alien to many other forces and that at least my force was making the efforts to become more inclusive.

As my journey progressed in the police service into the ranks of Constable and beyond I have been deployed to areas that have been almost exclusively white.

I recall going to my first police station and being forced to stand outside the police station for a photo so that I could be shown on the front page of the local paper as the first black officer. I even received a handwritten letter of welcome from the local MP, Edwina Currie.

In the main, I have met some of the most incredible, supportive, and passionate people in the police service but there have always been the bigots, the bullies, the intolerant, and the exclusionary people.

I have been threatened with violence, blocked from applications for promotions (with gentle words) and on one occasion, even held back from being promoted for 18 months, even though I had come top in the process, just because my line manager had bad-mouthed me to the Chief Officers behind my back (he was later exposed by a number of other officers as a bully and left the organisation).

The one thing that I learned is that the police service, like many other organisations, has its own cliques and groups that form over time unintentionally but one is judged based upon whether you are in or out of groups. I guess we call this unconscious bias or micro-aggressions nowadays.

Nonetheless, thankfully there were enough of those passionate individuals coming through the senior ranks that recognised potential and even chose to encourage and mentor me. I will be forever thankful to these great leaders.

You’ve run a couple of successful ‘Ignite Your Inner Potential’ workshops, how did that come about?

During my time in the police service, in all of the roles that I have performed, I have seen the darkest of times. People doing bad things to others because of some thoughts or beliefs that they may hold.

I have seen pain and destruction that has affected the lives of so many. I have seen leaders either inspiring or de-motivating their staff.  All of this has made me curious as to why we all behave or respond differently to circumstances or stimuli. 

In 1990, I became seriously ill and nearly died of pleural tuberculosis and it was a life-defining experience. I wanted to research both the mindset of others and myself to understand how it impacts on the results that we saw in our lives. I read books on mindset and leadership; I attended courses (secretly in many cases as this was not a subject that many understood or embraced openly).

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that my life after the police service would be to help people and communities build powerful mindsets.  I recall bringing in a motivational speaker to one of my departments to inspire my staff.

This speaker, at the time was also undertaking doctoral research on happiness and had carried out interviews across several organisations. He interviewed me and asked me what I thought was the key element of leadership and my response was that I firmly believed that every single person has within them a hidden potential that most don’t access throughout their entire lives but those3 that do go to perform beyond the imaginings of many.  Thus was borne the seed of the idea of Ignite Your Inner Potential.

I committed that one day would create a movement that created a ripple effect of realisation across communities that we could all do much, much more than we ever envisaged and that by creating this incredibly aware mindset, perhaps we would see less destructive behaviour both towards ourselves and others. Perhaps it would create a force for good.

This idea remained latent, however, whilst I was building my coaching business for the first 2 years since leaving the police.

Until one day I was being interviewed by a lady for her Youtube Channel and, at the end of it, she asked if we could run an empowerment event together for her female corporate clients. I agreed without hesitation and we set about booking the venue, I created the content and we started marketing.

However, disappointingly, after just 2 weeks she phoned me up to say that was pulling out as she couldn’t see it working. I decided there and then that I would keep the venue and date and paid her half of the deposit fee.

I spent that entire evening wondering what on earth I was going to do and spoke to my wife. All of a sudden the words ‘Ignite Your Inner Potential’ jumped into my mind and the rest is history. 

Three years on, not only has our annual event grown incredibly from 70 attendees from the first one to 350 in 2020, it has given birth to our leadership company of the same name.

We now provide a suite of leadership and people development courses, working with some incredible clients, from police forces to universities and we are have continued to grow, even during the lockdown period brought about by Covid-19.

Why is emotional intelligence (EI) within leadership important? 

For me, EI, is incredibly important in leadership and in every other aspect of our lives. Whilst the concept has been around since the early 1990s, many still do not understand t fully, let alone practice it.  It is far more complex and wide-reaching than people understand it to be.

I am so passionate about that I sought out the very coaching qualification in just this area. This now forms the foundational root that I teach in any of my programmes, from preparing for leadership through to being an effective senior leader, from helping minority staff excel in the organisation through to creating empowered cultures where everyone feels valued and performs to the best of their potential.

Many will recall that EI works across 4 quadrants:

  • Self Awareness
  • Self Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Building

However, most will have no idea of the complex 26 competency areas that support these quadrants. It is by exploring and honing our skills in these competencies that the magic really happens. It is no surprise that many of the most successful global brands that we know have embraced EI as their overarching strategy for cultural development.

Do you think those in leadership roles need to invest more in this for themselves?

Absolutely!

I believe every bit of growth starts from a deeper level of self-awareness and most successful leaders are those that are the most self-aware.  Yet we see time and again people being promoted to higher levels because they were great at their previous job. There is this unreal expectation that it will make them great leaders going forward. 

I have worked with organisations where I’m faced with leaders who have never undergone any kind of formal leadership development programme and thus are struggling with imposter syndrome or just ‘winging it’ in the hope that it works. 

It makes no sense to me. It is a waste of a great resource. I believe every leader should be equipped with at least the basic skills but if you want outstanding leaders then EI delivers this in abundance.  It not only ensures you create effective leaders but it translates to the cultures you are creating within your workplace and leads to better sustainable performance.

Summary

I’ve known Kul for a couple of years and we’ve followed each other’s journeys, professionally from afar.

It’s been great to get to know more about the workshops and work Kul as been doing during lockdown and vice versa and to share our visions with each other.

In the coming months, we’ll be working on some exciting new projects together so watch this space!

To find out more about Kul’s work please connect with him on his socials below:

LinkedIn: Kul Mahay

Website: Ignite Your Inner Potential

Email: kul@kulmahay.com

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