Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

6th September, 2017

I spoke about the central importance of leadership last Saturday morning, and this week in Headmaster’s Assembly I continued this theme. It is important to note that I do not have all the answers! In fact, leadership is a life-long activity, and trying to become a better leader occurs on a daily basis. Readers of Headmaster’s Headlines will know that Merchiston’s educational philosophy is very simple, as in, “Look after every pupil to the best of our ability; develop the mind of every pupil; and develop every pupil as a human being, a character and a personality.” Well, with regard to the latter, each pupil in the School being given the chance to develop leadership, teamwork and mentoring abilities must be at the core of every pupil’s Merchiston journey. So, some thoughts on leadership directly from my words to the School on Tuesday morning:

What is leadership?

  • To be a leader, implies the existence of followers and of a direction in which one is moving them.
  • The concept of leadership also has implications for methodology: followers need to be moving without the presence of guns to their head. Leadership is not the same as coercion, as President Dwight D Eisenhower remarked, “Leadership is the art of getting people to do what you want because they want to do it”.


  • This raises another issue – the matter of communication: it is quite hard to get people to move if they do not know where they are supposed to be heading.
  • Leadership is getting the best out of people and in a school it is getting the best out of the teams and individuals. That involves people-management and personal relations, tactics, strategy and ideas of how to play the game.
  • Be interested and curious about what makes people ‘tick’.
  • Leadership is about talking to people and listening.
  • Be both passionate, yet unminded.
  • As a leader, show you care about those whom you are leading in the round in life as a whole and not just in one activity.
  • Think about the combination of team messaging/strategy and the natural one-to-one ordinary conversations.

Different teams

  • Think about the Federer Wimbledon 2017 tennis team; think about the London Para Athletics 2017 team; think about the team of fifteen players; think about the team of eleven players; five players; the drama team; the choir team; the house team; the engineering team; the CCF team; the Design team; the Sound and Lighting team; the Duke of Edinburgh team – with everyone being potential leaders and thinking like leaders; thinking about the whole team activity, others’ and their own. This makes leadership more difficult! You get arguments and debates, but to get a team together, that is vital. Sometimes you have to draw it out of the more gentle and quieter ones, who are often very, very shrewd.

Techniques to bring the team together

  • Consider using the huddle – this gives other people the chance to speak. It gives them ownership because they feel they belong to the team.
  • Conversely, get the opinions of those not in the team, because often they can see things and give you good pieces of advice.
  • Leadership is all about people skills and finding out about a person and what they are like, what motivates them, and what makes them ‘tick’. And sometimes, you might get the combination wrong of geeing someone up, encouraging someone and reassuring someone.
  • As a leader, remember that those who seem to be the most confident on the surface aren’t always!
  • There are obviously different styles of leadership – often you have to be extrovert, act in charge and engage with people. Sometimes, that is not easy.
  • Equally, you do not have to be a big extrovert and change things in dramatic ways. Be conscientious! Be fair-minded! Be decent, straight-forward and honest with people! Add that bit of flair because sometimes you have to do things spontaneously and take that chance.
  • Ask, “What about if there is that slightly different (yet often brilliant) person in your team?” Answer, “Get him on side; listen to his ideas! Do some frank talking! Get the team to enlist and confront that enigmatic performer and do not let him get away with any nonsense!” When the team is successful this could be a dangerous time, for individuals look at their own brands and positions …
  • As a leader, go into the activity expecting to do well as much as you can!
  • So, leadership depends on revealing authenticity, resilience, decency, honesty, understatement, being honourable, being respected, being trusted, displaying an openness with yet a playful sense of detachment and a lightness of touch.
  • Remember that quote I’ve often used by Robin Sharma, author and leadership expert, who said, “Leadership is not about title or designation; it is about impact, influence and inspiration.”


On Tuesday morning, we congratulated student leaders in Houses, but also those who are assuming leadership in just as important areas of other responsibility within the School. So, congratulations to:


Resident Prefects: Ming, Brian, Kayau

Non-Resident Prefect: Keir


Chalmers West

Resident Prefects: Paul, Thomas, Nils

Non-Resident Prefects: Harry, Tyler


Chalmers East

Resident Prefects: Alexander, Makar, Gregor

Non-Resident Prefect: Rhys, Kai (Laidlaw Annexe)


Resident Prefects: Haani, Song Hei

Non-Resident Prefects: Hamish D, Hamish L and Philip






Laidlaw North

Cameron, William and Fabian


Laidlaw South

Cameron, Arman and Linus



Other Prefect Responsibilities

Academic Liaison – Pupil Learning Council: Craig and Fraser
Art: Adam, and Jamie
Charities: Edward
Design Technology: Jack
Drama: Hamish
English: Cameron (representing Rogerson); Patrick (representing Pringle); Harry (representing Chalmers West); Rhys (representing Chalmers East)
Film and Photography: James-Lachlan
Geography: Thomas and Connor
Information Technology: Brian
Languages: Martin
Mandarin: Oliver and Sean
Mathematics: Hamish (representing Middle Years); Rory (representing Sixth Form); Kai Yao (representing Middle Years)
Music: Craig
Rugby: Evan
Science: Fraser

And as I have said so many times, receiving a tie and the metaphor of a tie is but the beginning. When I met numerous Lower Sixth Formers last term to discuss different styles of leadership, one of them made a very apt remark, “Sir, nobody notices whether anybody is wearing a Prefect tie or a Senior Prefect tie, but they do notice if you care.” Leadership in a nub, I guess.

Many, many congratulations to Craig, one of our Music Scholars, who is currently working towards a Diploma in Percussion. Over the Summer, he received a Merit in his Grade 7 Piano (his second musical instrument) with many complimentary remarks about the accuracy and sensitivity of his playing.


Now I am sure that every single member of the Merchiston community would agree with me! Being back at School! One of the great things about belonging to a community like this is that the young energise you and give you so much delight and joy. We are certainly up and running!

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