Reflections on Leadership with Lord Ian Livingston of Parkhead

Lord Ian Livingston of Parkhead, the Minister of Trade and Investment and the former CEO of BT, delivered the fourth in our Reflections on Leadership lecture series at the University of London on 28 November.  Lord Livingston said that for him, leadership comes down to the very simple maxim: “Leaders make change happen.”

Bold in the face of adversity

Lord Livingston’s speech drew parallels between the worlds of business and education and he opened with a call to action for leaders to persevere in the face of resistance to change.  “Someone who champions change recognises where it needs to happen and is not afraid to press forward with determination even in the face of adversity,” he said. “If you’re going to jump from one side of a cliff to another, don’t walk. Have courage.”

The best leaders, he said, are those who communicate openly and honestly with both their staff and their customers. At BT, he spent more than two hours each day reading and replying to all the customer feedback that came into the organisation – which ran to hundreds of letters and emails a week.  This gave him a direct link to the organisation’s customers.

Drawing inspiration from beyond your field (and from Tigger and Eeyore)

Leaders also recognise the need for a broad range of personalities and life outlooks. Alluding to the “Winnie the Pooh” series, Lord Livingston said all organisations need both enthusiastic, go-getting Tiggers and cautious, analytical Eeyores. “Truly great leaders are both Tigger and Eeyore – applying each worldview at the appropriate time in the appropriate situation.”

Lord Livingston spoke with admiration about great teachers who are able to “lift the lid on the outside world for pupils.” He said he had one such teacher, who had really touched his life. “They got me involved in business management and I won a couple of national competitions and they made me think I should look into this as a career.”

The lecture was warmly received by our audience of senior leaders from across our 27 schools. Jan Fleming, Head Teacher of ARK Ayrton Primary, drove with four members of her Senior Leadership Team from Portsmouth to London especially for the lecture. “These lectures are always such a rewarding, wonderful, reflective experience, with great lessons to pass on. That’s why the journey up to London is worth it,” she said.  Daniel Upfield, Head Teacher of ARK Atwood Primary, said it was refreshing to hear from someone who came into a leadership role from a very young age. “I really related to the stories Lord Livingston told about the challenges of being a young leader – and about having the confidence that, in time, people will judge you not on your age but on your abilities.”

More to do…

Lord Livingston left the audience with his personal motto: “more to do.” It’s important to celebrate success and recognise excellence but, as a leader, there will always be more challenges to face, improvements to achieve and changes to make. “You’re better than last year, but not as good as you will be next year,” he said, which illustrates very well his approach to leadership.