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Saturday, 24th February 2024


Sujinder Sangha (third from left), OBE, Principal, Stockton-Tees College talks to Diverse Ethics about his life and career, and leadership style

He was awarded OBE by the Queen in 2010 for Services to Education - a very prestigious honour. Sikh culture is passionate about hard work, service and equality, and his achievements are a strong testament to this faith.


Early Steps

My first leadership role was in my Trade Union, when I was working in a metal company in the Midlands in the late 60’s as a fresh migrant from Punjab in India. I have never been a full time student – always working part-time. I organised a Trade Union branch in my company – there were no rights, no health and safety, and I was chosen by my colleagues to represent them. We had to educate workers to recognise their rights and skills to represent themselves as individuals. I have used this experience to develop a lot of work-based training. I was the only ABME staff, and yet I was elected to represent the staff. I was working in the inspection department at the time. In parallel to this, I was active in the early migrant Indian community in the Midlands, writing for a few Punjabi papers, and through that I developed a wide network of contacts.

My Indian qualifications were not recognised at the time, so I had to do local exams to enter University. I completed my formal education and teacher training, including a Masters degree, by the early 90’s all through part-time work. Presently, I am pursuing an EdD.

How did you break the glass ceiling in an Education career?

Through hard work, perseverance, and accomplishing challenging tasks and projects, I proved my capabilities, until eventually, I got to the top of an Outstanding Further Education college. I do not think one should seek acceptance – that to me is a sign of weakness. Instead, one should prove the skills and achievements, and then success is bound to come. And it will not come first time or easily, so perseverance is key.

In Industry, we took education to the people who needed it most. There is a lot of disadvantage in opportunities – and I led many initiatives to break the barriers and improve access to education. For example, in the 1970’s and 80’s in the Engineering Industry, increasing automation was being feared, but I took the initiative to engage companies to invest in the training of their shop-floor staff so that they learned to work smarter and developed their personal skills and qualifications at the same time. My practical background helped me to constantly ground the education in an industrial or workplace context.

During the 70’s colleges were really struggling because industries and jobs were in deep recession, and colleges had to reinvent themselves. Programmes like Train to Gain came much, much, later. We also developed international links – I was keen to develop an internationally accredited qualification. We were early pioneers in this kind of signature qualification.

As a Minority Ethnic individual, one encounters racial prejudice, religious prejudice, and an inferior view all the time. There are a lot of stereotypical assumptions made by people, but one has to overcome them.

How did Sikh culture influence your success?

The values and faith were inherited. Hard work, sharing and community values were very strong in my upbringing. Work is worship for us, and we try to do it to the highest standards and benefit the most people through our work. Respect for each and every person, and improving equality and the access to learning for the underprivileged all came from my cultural roots.

Leadership style

Leadership requires a lot of courage and conviction. It also involves risks. But the risks can also bring rewards and learning.

I am very open and accessible to my staff and empower them to develop themselves. We have strong succession plans and encourage team-working. Each person can rise to the highest possible levels, and when someone decides to leave because of promotion, we congratulate them and take pride in their progress. This is a very different model of leadership from the traditional command and control model. We call each member of staff a leader and give them responsibilities and the freedom to deliver and develop themselves at the same time.

Britain as a society needs to understand and appreciate that every citizen is an asset and is here for the good of Britain and build a better country. The future of society depends on the strength of each individual.

Message to Ethnic Professionals aspiring for Civic Leadership

Each person needs to undertake a self-analysis and develop a vision and strategy for success. They should understand that they are an asset. Values are innate in individuals. A multi-cultural society should acknowledge the values and identity of different people and not suppress them. You are respected more if you stand for what you are, rather than to try to be someone you are not. I would encourage people not to seek acceptance but to keep their inner self-respect and dignity, than to change just for the sake of fitting in.


Article added on 28th April 2010 at 1:11pm
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