Last week I found myself walking the red carpet…. it was the graduation ceremony for the ‘Class of 2019’ at a British school in China.

It was a wonderful, yet unexpected invitation, as I was visiting the school to conduct interviews. The ceremony was a defining moment for students and a proud day for the school. With true Chinese pride, efficiency and dignity, the red-carpet procession was led by the Headmaster and his Guest of Honour. I felt privileged to walk along with the school’s staff amidst the camera flashing, cheering and clapping. It captured beautifully the enthusiasm and warmth of students towards their teachers and reflected the special culture of mutual respect and excellence that exists at the school.

My real moment of pride came some ten minutes later, once we were seated in the school’s auditorium and the ceremony began. The senior leader who had organised the day, appointed by LSC two years ago, was an outstanding Master of Ceremonies for the graduation. His approach, commitment and success in his leadership role was tangible. Witnessing how he had developed in his role, this senior leader epitomised what schools globally are now recognising as so important to develop in students for the 21st Century; character, resilience and adaptability for the future. As a candidate, when he was appointed, it would be true to say that he didn’t fit all the required criteria with regards to background and experience, although of course he was suitably qualified and had relevant-enough experience. However, there was something about him that was recognised at interview, and much of his success can be attributed to his character; his adaptability, drive and interpersonal skills, which have enabled him to earn the trust and respect of those around him. These personal qualities and skills appear to have enabled him to bring about change and improvement to the school, and his resilience, cultural awareness and sensitivity in a setting that was completely new to him, have served him well – and of course he’s still learning and developing.

In the Headmaster’s speech (who I am pleased to say was also appointed through LSC) he talked to the students about the importance of skills acquisition for their futures, not just the importance of knowledge and qualifications. This point was also pertinent for us at LSC, as education consultants, in our approach to guiding governing boards in their recruitment. So often in senior leadership recruitment, selection panels are convinced that they need to appoint a candidate who has ‘been there and done that’ already. They feel that the candidate needs to have been in a similar post or school before, to have faced similar challenges, to have experience in similar systems, processes and curriculum (often for an explicitly stated number of years), and these override the panel’s willingness to explore other skills and attributes of character such as resilience, sensitivity, empathy, patience, drive and many other personality traits which can lead to more successful leadership than purely prior-experience and prior-knowledge.

My message to selection panels appointing senior leaders is this; congratulate yourselves if you make a good appointment, with someone who has ‘been there and done that’. But equally, congratulate yourselves if you’ve been willing to take a risk, and appoint the ‘wild card’ candidate who also has the potential to be an outstanding leader.

My sincere thanks to the school for inviting me to your graduation ceremony. Good luck to the Class of 2019!