Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leadership - Wimbledon Bookfest Talks

Two absorbing talks on Leadership during Wimbledon Bookfest week were given by two very different leaders in Donhead's gym on Friday. The first by Colonel Bob Stewart DSO former commander of British troops in Bosnia and the second by Father Peter Gallagher SJ a lecturer at London University's Heythrop College and Rector (leader) of the Society of Jesus in Wimbledon.

Colonel Bob's talk coincided with the launch of his book "Leadership under Pressure". He spoke of his times in Bosnia and the UN efforts to contain the atrocities being perpetrated there. He spoke of the effects of having to kill a fellow human being - which returns to haunt you years later - and responded with dignity and obvious respect for the human spirit, to some tough questions about whether soldiers "want to kill the enemy". He said that true professional soldiers seek to reduce killing but that the lesser of the two evils principle does mean that killing of enemy soldiers cannot be avoided. He outlined the quite restrictive rules of engagement that apply in UN situations. He also talked of times when he had to decide to ignore rules in order to save civilians and harked back to the atrocities that occurred when Bosnian Serbs captured the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica and other UNs troops stuck to the letter of the rules which lead to disaster. His interpreter in Bosnia, who attended the talk as she later became Mrs Stewart was a young French UN woman responsible for setting up a large refugee camp there and seemed to me to be quite a courageous leader herself.

Lateral thinking seemed to play quite a part in Col Bob's view of leadership. EG the British MoD denied his request for helicopters from Ark Royal to help civilians outside his area so he borrowed a couple from the friendly French, then spoke about this to the BBC's reporter on the spot. Soon after she reported the reliance on French helicopters on the BBC news at 6pm, the British MoD hurried over some British helicopters to his battalion. Convoys of lorries too were used to save civilians but even then babies died on the exhausting long journies as people were crammed into these army trucks - still many other people were saved.

Father Peter spoke of the four pillars of heroic leadersip which are i. self awareness ii. ingenuity
iii. Love and iv. Heroism. Some questions put to him too were quite tough verging eg on the thorny (for some) issue of celibacy. His quiet sensitive approach to leadership and people impressed. His talk was perforce rather shorter as Col Bob overan his time but was in some ways even more thought provoking.

Col. Bob's book contains a dedication to Donhead's head whose leadership style is based on back row substantive understanding rather than bluff and bluster from front row.

The popularity of the evening and the bar is expected to benefit HCPT Group 35's fundraising for our Easter 2010 pilgrimage so a large thank you to everyone who contributed.

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