Matthew Burns

AN INSTINCT FOR INFLUENCE

An article in Tuesday’s Independent asks ‘Where are the leaders who can cast a spell?’ Steve Richards, points to the momentum, conviction and unity the big election winners of the past have conveyed – they have, Richards says, ‘cast a spell over the electorate and media’.

One way in which leaders control their fate is through the selection of their team around them, and whether they make senior colleagues feel part of a project or moodily detached from it. Close allies to those who lead are able to steer and support. They have an instinct for influence.

Fifty years after Churchill’s funeral, Sedbergh School pupils study in the library named after him and which was refurbished in his name by Brendan Bracken OS. Bracken was a former pupil and governor, and generous benefactor to the School.

He became a close friend and ally to Churchill who made him Parliamentary Secretary and Minister of Information from 1941-45. Sir Winston Churchill said to the King, of Bracken, ‘He has sometimes been almost my sole supporter in the years when I have been striving to get this country properly defended.’

In contrast to Goebbels, his German counterpart who took to the airwaves, Bracken cultivated the British and international press on his master’s behalf. He was the spin-doctor par excellence half a century before the word was invented.

It is exciting to see young Old Sedberghians developing their own talents to influence others and thereby pass on the principles and values they have gained from our School.  Jack McConnell (H, 2012), reading Arabic, Farsi and Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College, Cambridge, is pursuing a journalistic career out of term time.

Just about to turn 21, he has already interviewed a Hezbollah commander in southern Beirut, the day that Jabhat al-Nusra (an ISIS affiliate) rolled over the border from Syria and took a Lebanese town. Sally Wellock (R, 2013), has launched her own food product, an artisan, gluten-free pasta, and due to her networking skills, drive and entrepreneurship, she has successfully placed her product in Selfridges Food Hall and she has achieved national distribution and a recommendation in The Guild of Fine Food magazine. All in two years.

It is unusual to find pupils at Sedbergh who are here to acquire the hallmark of elitism or a ticket to Oxbridge, or a step up through the Old Boys – and Girls – network. More typically, they are here because they have a talent, an academic spark, a drive to succeed at whatever they set out to achieve.  

We see this at interview and then in their participation in school life. They are here to participate in a community that never leaves anyone behind; and they gain experiences which set them up for life – able to influence and lead from wherever they stand. 

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