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Lola Fayemi

Support yourself to stay 'in service'

Stories Lola Fayemi

Lola Fayemi discusses her experience working with Spark Inside, a pioneering organisation that brings life coaching to young people in prison, and shares how this work has transformed her as a leader.

Lola Fayemi is a Leadership Coach at and Find out more about Spark Inside's work in prisons at

Lola Fayemi:

I’ve been involved with Spark Inside for nearly 5 years now. We are an organisation that is bringing life coaching into the prison service. We initially started off working with young people in the prison service — 15-25 year olds in young offenders institutions or secure training centres.

In criminal justice terms, the aim is always to reduce reoffending. This is the holy grail everyone is aiming for. And for us that was just a step in what we were trying to do. We wanted not just to reduce reoffending and take something away, but also to add something. If these young people weren’t being defined by the fact that they ‘offend’ then what are they doing?

We are bringing something life affirming and positive, something that encourages people to thrive and grow, to an environment that is the polar opposite.

We use coaching to help young people find a more compelling future to work towards. We believe that if young people have a more compelling future to work towards the crime will fall away. We don’t believe young people want to commit crimes. We’ve not seen any evidence that this is their reason for existing.

A lot of the young people we deal with have been dealt really hard cards from life, and yes, they have made certain choices and we aren’t taking away from that responsibility, but this is also about having them aim for something else based on who they are. Not just pick a job and go for it to tick a box, but: “What did you come here to do?” We believe that people are born and encoded to move in a certain direction and people want to move in that direction, and things get in the way.

Coaching is a great tool for helping young people, or anyone really, to identify how they can best use the gifts, strengths, talents, passions, values, that are theirs — to create their life around these. Once these young people are able to identify that, then the crime will fall away.

Boom Boom Go:

What excites you about this work?


We are bringing coaching to a very complex social problem. We are bringing something life affirming and positive, something that encourages people to thrive and grow, to an environment that is the polar opposite. An environment that is life denying and soul destroying. We are bringing those two worlds together and that is what excites me the most.

I can only speak right now for the difference this work has made in my own life and it has transformed it.

Boom Boom Go:

What fears came up for you and your team as you started this work?


The general fear of prison. Prison is a thing that we are socially conditioned to avoid. There is that natural fear to overcome. There is also a fear that prison could be a violent place.

There is also a fear for the female coaches on our team. As a women you could feel quite vulnerable in an environment with so many men who are not having a lot of access to women. It’s a very male dominated environment in terms of the atmosphere and energy.

Everyone has fears until you meet the young people, then once you are in the workshops doing work with them, I’ve had so many coaches say, “There’s not much difference between working with the young people and working with a corporate team.” At the end of the day, as coaches we work with humans. We work with the part that we all have in common.

Boom Boom Go:

How has this work affected your life?


I’m a completely different person than the woman… maybe the girl who joined five years ago. I feel like I’ve been absolutely turned inside out by the inner work I’ve had to do to stay on top of everything.

I have so much more respect for coaching as well. It’s just such a phenomenal tool.

It’s made me more passionate about having more impact socially. I’m really interested in projects that are bringing the transformational power of coaching into non-coaching worlds. I’m part of that movement that is all about making coaching more accessible. I take that much more seriously as a result of working with Spark Inside.

I can only speak right now for the difference this work has made in my own life and it has transformed it.

Boom Boom Go:

What advice do you have for other coaches who want to start something purposeful?


Tip no 1: Support yourself to stay in service.

When you are in service you take more responsibility than when you are just doing it for yourself. For example, looking after myself, keeping my head right, getting support in terms of coaching, mentors, courses. I would never have done as much of that work for myself. I did it because I had to keep myself together in order to do this work. As team leader, if I wasn’t together then no one else could be together. Really take your leadership seriously.

I really cannot emphasise the being in service piece enough. It’s absolutely everything.

If you have being in service at the heart of your intention for the work that you want to do, pretty much everything else will look after itself. There can be a misunderstanding about what being in service means. I’ve come across a lot of people who feel they are in service to something and put themselves in the back burner. That’s not being in service.

I’m not a fan of selflessness, martyrdom, giving from an empty cup. It can contribute to the problems you are trying to solve.

Also, sometimes there are people who shy away from the service piece as they think it means they don’t get a look in. Not at all. You definitely get the best look in. Because when you do things in service, it becomes about you being in the best shape in order to have the impact that you want to have.

Tip no 2: Ensure your team members’ personal missions line up with your organisation’s mission.

Engagement, engagement, engagement. It’s the answer to everything. When you are working with a team of people, trying to bring something different and new into the world it’s really important that they are engaged. The way that they will be engaged is not because you tell them to be, or that they should be – those are ineffective motivators.

It’s about making sure that you find out what their personal mission is in life and make sure that it aligns with the organisation’s mission. Not word for word, but the general gist. Then you don’t have to push so hard, because this is who they are here to be.

One of the best things about creating these organisations and projects, as well as helping the end users, it also creates these wonderful vehicles where other people get to use their gifts, and have the impact they want to have. They may not be capable of creating the organisation, but they desire that expression. Don’t underestimate that. That’s magic.

Recruit them around that. Be clear on who they really are during the recruitment process. No masks! “I don’t do masks, take your mask off when you speak to me” is one of my favorite quotes. Ask them: “Who are you really and how do you align with this organisation?” That’s a win-win. That’s when the magic happens.

This interview has minor edits for clarity.

Lola Fayemi is a Leadership Coach at and Find out more about Spark Inside's work in prisons at