Dear Parents,

Leadership and Trust

What makes a great leader?

The High School will soon be announcing the Student Representative Council members for the term. These are students duly elected by their peers to serve as representatives of their Grades.

Being elected by your peers is an acknowledgement of confidence in the relevant student’s leadership ability. This is, to a large extent, built on trust.

I have spent considerable time reflecting on the notion of leadership. There are numerous theories and vast amounts of literature written on the subject.

It is a topic that stimulates debate and encourages questions to be raised. Inevitably we cast a critical eye on present world leaders. We hold these leaders accountable to lead exemplary careers, yet in my opinion, they fail dismally in many cases. Condemnation of leaders has been expressed when leaders deviate from a sound moral compass and start down the path of poor judgement and corruption. They often become self-serving and not selfless. They ignore the intrinsic reward of improving the lives of others and rather treasure the extrinsic reward of possessions and a lavish lifestyle.

At The Bay Academy, as do other schools, we have the window of opportunity to inculcate sound leadership qualities in the leaders of tomorrow.

I have alluded to the importance of trust as a key requisite in leadership, and I will now elaborate on this opinion.

Trust is not easily developed. However, it is remarkable how rapid trust is built in more extreme situations. Soldiers sharing a foxhole in combat depend on each other for survival and build a very deep brotherly connection. Circus acrobatic performers exhibit great trust in their partner’s ability to catch them. They just know that the hand will be there to catch them. In rock climbing, a belayer will hold the rope while you ascend the rock. They will arrest your fall by ensuring that the rope is held. That trust is there; it is almost tangible through that rope.

You can research all the masses of literature and make copious lists of the elements of leadership. However, I will relate a personal experience that will hopefully shed light on what, in my opinion, is the core requisite for true leadership.

As a young boy, I recall as part of my school’s outdoor education programme, having to hike what is termed “around the world”. This is a circumnavigation of a local mountain range. In the year when I embarked on this hike, they extended the traditional length and duration of the hike. As students, we set off, no staff to supervise, just a senior boy who leads each group. All went well until the night when a cold front arrived dumping profuse amounts of rain. Wind lashed our rudimentary shelters and snow fell on the higher mountains. Miserable, shivering we woke up on the mountain to zero visibility. Fortunately, we had a wonderful student leader who retained his composure and sat us all down and chatted to us. He reassured us that he knew where we were, he knew the path to follow and we were not in any danger. He said we needed to “man up” and see the conditions as a bonus, in that for years to come, we would be the group that completed the course in the prevailing miserable conditions. “Character building,” he said.

From being miserable and scared little boys, we puffed out our chests, encouraged each other and eventually, after another sleepless night, up mountain and down valley, crossing swollen rivers and many kilometers under our boots, we concluded the hike. Needless to say, I recall a great sense of pride in completing the challenge and being in awe of the senior boy.

So, what characteristic of leadership would I intimate is the core requisite from this story?

It is simply “Trust”.

Good leaders create conditions where followers trust their leader. People will believe and follow you if they trust you. They will follow you even if it is from a sense of curiosity. Where will the leader take me?

They trust the leader because he or she shares the risk. Trust allows them the confidence to know that they may well be led into the unknown, but the leader has their best interests at heart.

This means that being a selfless leader will generate trust. He or she serves the group and is not self-serving. The leader, having a clear vision and mission that is shared with the group, also instills trust.

In order to maintain trust it sometimes requires you to “man up”. You may be terrified, but you should not look terrified. You may be cold and hungry, but you must not appear to be cold and hungry.  Because if you do appear cold, hungry and terrified, then those that you lead will be cold, hungry and terrified.

So, to the new Student Representatives and others in our school who take up leadership positions, as you embark on your tenure,  I encourage you to serve others, be brave in seeking out new opportunities, carry the mantle of privilege and responsibility that you will now bear with grace. Above all, light that spark of leadership by building trust with those that you serve.

Kind regards

John Alexander