Our Invesiture Service saw the commisioning of our Class of 2023. Read a snapshot of our Deputy Headmaster, Nicholas Brice's address to our Seniors.

When I was leaving my previous school and in anticipation of coming to Somerset College in 2021, I received a gift from someone. They handed a wrapped parcel to me, which was obviously a book, and stated, “You’ll need this.”

I immediately speculated and wondered what it was.

Was it a copy of Deputy Headmaster for Dummies?

I returned home that night and eagerly, but also quizzically, opened the gift and was surprised with what greeted me: The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Confused, I immediately read the text that night.

I discovered that The Art of War is the most famous study of strategy ever written and has had an extraordinary influence on the history of warfare, government and politics. Sun Tzu himself was a Chinese military general, strategist, philosopher, and writer who lived during the Eastern Zhou period of 771 to 256 BCE.

Within The Art of War, Sun Tzu makes the following statements amongst many others:

“The art of war is… a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.”

“All warfare is based on deception.”

“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

Although quite intense at times, it has and awful lot of information that has been of great value to me and, no doubt, thousands of others.

Upon completion, I closed the text, lay on my couch, stared off into space and reflected on something. Not what the messages within the text were, or Sun Tzu’s directives.

I realised that the question I needed to ask wasn’t, “what is this text?”. The question was actually, “why was it given to me with the instruction, ‘You’re going to need this’”.

The truth is that I unfortunately feel that the book was gifted to me as they believed that being a leader is the same as going to war. Making it more simple – they potentially felt like leaders “battle” and I was being given a rule book as to how to “win”.

I hopped off the couch and headed to bed with a decision made: I didn’t agree with them.

We live in a society that can unfortunately be obsessed with winning or losing. There are some who only celebrate champions and discard those who come second. Our day-to-day conversation is littered with examples:

  • “Come out on top”
  • "Get the upper hand”
  • “To seal victory”
  • “To snatch a win”
  • “Knockout punch”

The argument is often made that competition builds character, as learning how to win and lose toughens us and give us confidence. Please trust that I am not advocating for the mentality that ‘everyone should get a medal’. It’s important to learn lessons from success and defeat and at the Investiture Dinner, Olympian and Somerset alumni, Mr Alex Beck, imparted some incredible wisdom to the Class of 2023 regarding this.

But, for today’s purposes, I am mirroring what anthropologist Jules Henry said which is that, “…a competitive culture endures… by tearing people down." Another way of saying this is that, unfortunately, some believe that their candle will burn brighter, if they blow your candle out.

I don’t agree with this.

Again, Alex Beck stated that, as the Seniors of the College, you have to lead by example and support those in the community. What he was discussing was servant leadership.

The phrase "servant leadership" was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf when he used it for the first time in 1970. In his essay, Greenleaf explains the term servant leader and talks about the reason for elaborating on this new leadership approach.

In short, servant leadership is a leadership philosophy built on the belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others, rather than try to gather power or take control.

But here is the most important point… you can’t choose who you serve.

Service must be to and for everyone…

Those who are ‘beneath’ you.

Those who are ‘above’.

Those who are beside you.

Those who agree with you.

Those who don’t.

Those who are your close friend. Those who aren’t.

Those who will be of benefit you.

And certainly (and most importantly) those who have no means to repay.

To close, I circle back to The Art of War.

I might have painted Sun Tzu in a negative light and that would be remiss of me. He also stated that, “I have three treasures that I keep and prize: one is kindness. By kindness one can be brave… The exercise of kindness leads to victory…”.

With utmost respect, I’ll slightly twist these words. I would ask that, throughout this year and as servant leaders…

Be brave enough to be kind.

Click to see a brief highlight from our Investiture Service.

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