Crawling under the hedge….

It’s official. I’m a highly reluctant member of the Marketing Academy alumni. I’ve just had my final coaching session of the year, with the very wonderful Adrienne Candy (anyone thinking of getting some coaching sessions then she comes highly recommended).

It was a chance to draw this exceptional scholarship programme to a close; an opportunity to reflect on just how much I’ve developed; a reminder that the end is never the end, but the beginning of always. I’ve got so much left to learn. And such a brilliant foundation to build on.

So, all buoyed up with enthusiasm, I was touched when Adrienne had a few words for me at the end of our call.

“Sarah,” Adrienne says, “I have an analogy to give you which I think reflects on the leader you could become.”

Brilliant, I think. Who is it? Who is this leader I can aspire to be? Someone lofty? Intellectual? Inspirational? Witty? Political? Obama might be a step too far, but I’m hoping for at least a Rory Sutherland.

“Just William”, she says.

Yes, Just William. For those of you who didn’t grow up reading those books, this is a small, grubby, badly-behaved schoolboy who goes around his village getting into hilarious scrapes. Generally these adventures involve humiliating irritating adults and driving his mother to the brink of nervous breakdown. I didn’t immediately see the connection. I went to all my classes at school like a big nerd, and my mummy thinks I’m a good girl.

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Then, she explains further. And her story went something like this: a little girl stands in a garden, wearing a nice clean dress. Under the hedge in the garden, there is something that looks interesting. There are two types of girls: the one who stays in the garden and keeps the dress clean, and the one who immediately gets on her knees and crawls under the hedge. And the Just William disciple, the child who goes under the hedge, doesn’t care if she gets dirty or the dress gets torn. She’s so curious about what lies beneath the hedge, and beyond, she doesn’t even think about it.

So the Just William philosophy summarises what, after a year of reflection on the subject, my vision of leadership has become. Good leadership is hard, and messy. Don’t talk about it, live it. Authenticity, not obsession with appearance, is core to success. If you stop being enthusiastic about that goal you’re chasing down, you may as well stop chasing it. Be strong. Be adventurous. Be endlessly-curious.

Thank you to Adrienne and to everyone involved in the Academy for a life-changing year! I’m off to crawl under a hedge.

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