Robin Chu is an entrepreneur helping students to break down barriers to success. He runs Brightcoach, a coaching company which works with young people to build confidence and resilience and meet their goals.
When he came to talk to us for leaders lunch, Robin shared a story from when he was 15-years-old which led him to create a business which has helped hundreds of young people get the grades they want, go to university, and start careers they really want. Robin went home after a history class about the Cuban missile crisis when they had learned about John F Kennedy, full of enthusiasm. He told his dad: “I want to be a politician.”
His dad replied: “Oh no, you’re never going to be a politician. The way you look and what we do, so my parents are owners of a local Chinese takeaway, the way you look and what we do, no-one’s going to vote for you. Think again. Be a doctor or an accountant.”
Looking back on that moment with our students, Robin said: “The feeling I had was the same thing I have now, which is: that’s entirely false. That feeling of never wanting to feel like your background, what your parents did or what school you went to or where you grow up, to determine where you end up, to determine your future.
“That’s the guiding principle behind what I do at Coachbright, why I set it up. Every young person whether in primary school or a young professional in a corporate, they should never feel like their background or their barriers will determine their future.”
Robin’s three leadership principles
He then shared three leadership principles he had learned in business. The last one is so simple and powerful.
1. Surround yourself with great people
Robin said: “I wouldn’t be here now being able to do this, wouldn’t be in three cities, working with really impressive companies and schools, without the support of great, great people.”
2. It’s ok to make mistakes
Robin talked about the idea of failing fast but keeping going. He said: “Coachbright started when I was 22, I’m 26 now. We work with headteachers who are 40, 50, 60, there is no way we have the educational experience they have and we don’t try to and obviously being a young organisation we make loads of mistakes, practically daily. That’s ok. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to do stuff wrong. The key is to be able to do something about it. You’re never going to get the full mark you just work to improve the stuff you need to improve.”
Allow yourself to be crazily curious
3. Don’t be afraid to ask basic questions
Asking questions, no matter how simple, is something Robin notices successful people do all the time. He calls it crazy curiosity.
Robin said: “The thing when I started and that I felt most like an imposter, was like ‘I’m 23, don’t know how to iron my shirt and I’m in a meeting with really important people, I don’t know what to say and I need to look smart and come across well…’ The more I go to these meetings, the more I realise, the more senior, important, smart people you meet, the main thing that stands out is they ask the dumbest questions.
“They ask the most basic questions because they’re not afraid to ask. They’re not afraid to be like: ‘Ah, I just know know what that means.’ or ‘Ah I don’t know what you’re talking about there’ or ‘can you just explain what that thing was’ and I think sometimes we get caught in a position, whether it’s in school or entrepreneurship or work in terms of trying to look smarter than we need to. I’m not going to ask, I’ll look dumb. The most successful people I know ask if they don’t know that acronym.
“The key is to ask. If you don’t ask you’re never going to know. No shame in asking in the meeting.”
- Leaders Lunch takes place at Cambridge Leadership College every Friday. The students cook for our guest, we enjoy a meal together and hear about their life.