Headmaster’s Assembly – 20 July 2018

Strange qualities of the courageous leader

You know by now that I believe there are leadership qualities in all of you. I do not believe leaders are born – I believe we all have potential to lead and to develop our unique style of leadership in different circumstances.

If I am to make this assertion – many of you may then ask so what are the qualities to which you refer? How do I know if I have leadership potential unless I know what it is I am supposed to be able to do?

Any search on leadership will find hundreds of articles. Google found over 2 billion when I tried! If I had to do a quick poll of what you thought the most valuable qualities of a leader were, no doubt words such as “integrity”, “honesty”, “presence”, “charisma” and in an all-boys school qualities such as “athleticism” and even “appearance” will come up. I came across an article the other day that had three qualities of a good leader that were a little different and I wanted to share them with you today.

The first is “curiosity”. The very best leaders we have known in our world have been curious and wanted to know more. They were not satisfied with simply what was around them and they had a desire to learn more. This is one of the first emotions we have as human beings and as babies our curiousity often gets us into trouble as we touch things and taste things yet it is also the thing that allows us to grow and learn. Even as teenagers and adults, if someone build a wall, we would want to know what was on the other side. If someone gave us a parcel to look after, we want to know what’s inside. Einstein rather cynically said that it was a miracle that curiosity survived the schooling system. I hope your school, its teachers and your parents encourage you to be curious – to want to know more.

Roy Bennet said “Listen with curiosity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” 

The second is “humility”. This is being able to step back from the limelight, giving others credit for their work. Accepting praise but graciously so. Having a modest opinion of one’s worth and rather looking for the good in others.

Michel de Montaigne said rather irreverently “On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” Ghandi put it slightly more seriously when he said “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” 

The third is “empathy”. This concept is often not too well known but being empathetic is to be able to be someone else for a while – to feel their needs and their wants without judgement, without condescension – simply to put yourself in their shoes, to identify with them. “Seeing with the eyes of another, hearing with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” The words of Alfred Adler. To be empathetic is to truly engage with another, to be fully immersed in their being and their interests. To listen actively – with your eyes as well as your ears. I blame hand-held devices for a lack of empathy. Have a conversation with someone without your phone in your hand, without it buzzing in your pocket. Put it far away. I have walked past many of you as you sit in groups and can guarantee that more than half of you either have your phones out and are looking at them, or are thinking about who has texted you recently because the phone is buzzing. Count how many times you check your phone every day and then count how many times you had a real conversation with someone where a device was nowhere to be found. Try to check your phone only when you are alone. Have respect for those around you. “See the light in each other. Be the light for each other.”

And so these three qualities not often associated with leadership exist within us – curiousity, humility and empathy. All it takes is the courage to let them shine forth.