Over 60 members of the School welcomed Mr Nick Haddock MBE and Mrs Christine Swabey to the second of the term’s Sixth Form Purvis Society talks. Both speakers are brilliantly qualified to speak on this challenging topic: Mr Haddock served in the Army for 16 years, became a Housemaster at Cranleigh and then moved on to the Headship of St John’s, Leatherhead. Mrs Swabey, after a career in international banking, held a variety of Board positions in the Health and Education sector, including Chairman of the Kingston Hospital NHS Trust, Vice-Chairman of Kingston University and she is now CEO of ‘Autistica’. She was called to the Bar in 2000, having studied the Law as a mature student “just for fun”.
Nick Haddock’s argument was summed up in his stirring closing statement: “Each and every one of you should know that you have the capacity for leadership, to make things happen for the better. If not now, at some point in the future your time will come: of that I have no doubt.”
Mrs Swabey began by agreeing with the main theme of Mr Haddock’s talk, but she also suggested that the very nature of leadership means our nature, or our character, will determine how, and indeed whether, we choose to exercise leadership when the opportunity presents itself. She then selected three aspects of leadership: leadership is both a privilege and a burden; leadership requires both intellect and emotion; timing is everything. She developed her statements by arguing that both nature and nurture play a role: nature because leadership is about putting our personal stamp on an issue or organisation; nurture because we will succeed as leaders only if we adapt and change. She suggested that “leadership is a journey, not a destination and we all have the capacity to learn from experience; that it is only through experience that we can truly learn what it is to be a good leader.”
She reflected also that, despite all that had been said, for some, being part of a team may be more fun than leading, but she reminded us that leadership does offer a rare and privileged opportunity to change the world and make it a better place. Her advice to us all is to try it out as and when you get the chance, as “one of the best things about leadership is that you will learn a lot about yourself. Don’t be afraid to take up the challenge when it presents itself and remember that making mistakes is how we progress in life.” Charles Dunstone (CEO of Carphone Warehouse) is quoted as saying that a successful businessperson was one who made the right decision 51% of the time; the other 49% were mistakes and learning experiences. Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, says, “You learn your leadership every day”: that, Mrs Swabey concluded, was her experience too.
Questions from the floor were excellent, but rare. The evening ended, as is customary, with a formal dinner in Hall, prepared by our Executive Chef Jon Smith.
A fuller transcript of this excellent and thought-provoking Purvis presentation is available for those who wish to read it.