Sunday, 24 July 2011


I appreciate that "Leading Light" could be construed as an arrogant name for a personal blog - a bit like calling myself a leading lady, but in fact the choice of handle has quite humble origins. Leading Lights (also known as Range Lights in the US) are light beacons, used in navigation to indicate a safe passage for vessels entering a shallow or dangerous channel; and may also be used for position fixing. At night, the lights are a form of leading path that can be used for safe navigation. The beacons consist of two lights that are separated in distance and elevation, so that when they are aligned, with one above the other, they provide a bearing. These are often illuminated day and night.

At work and in my wider life I am often the person that people turn to in times of trouble or change.  Even when I was at boarding school, I was the one who made sure that there was no evidence when the older girls had sneaked out and over-indulged in the pub.  One day in June, when I was myself in the sixth form, a fellow pupil came and found me as there was "a crisis".  A girl in the year below had been allowed out to an end of school celebration at a local boys' school - whilst there she had partied to excess and then fallen out with her boyfriend.  Depressed and emotional, to the extreme depths that a teenage girl can achieve, she swallowed what pills she and her ex had not consumed earlier in the day and, on return to our school, slashed her wrists.  The girl, who found her, slumped under a bush in the school grounds, had got her back to her house and then put her in a hot bath to wash away the blood - that was when the trouble began.  Seeping veins and hot water are a lethal combination.  Fortunately, the would-be-Samaritan realised what she'd done, drained the bath water and ran to fetch me.  Clearly I wasn't a nurse, but I can keep my head in a crisis.  The mess was appalling, but of much greater concern was the risk to the poor girl's life - even though she had made a pretty feeble attempt at suicide, veins not artery incisions, she was in a very bad way.  I bound up the wrists and staunched the bleeding, but was very concerned by the state she was in.  Despite having made her vomit up much of what was still in her stomach, I could not get her pupils to respond to light from a torch.  I sent a girl to fetch the house mistress, but it transpired that she was not in her flat (she was a tad too pally with the games mistress and it was a beautiful day...), so I took the initiative and, with difficulty, carried the "patient" to the nearby hospital.  This story has a happy ending in that she is still alive and well and is now recognised as a talented and successful artist – all through her own efforts and a burning desire to make something of her life.  Sadly, it was not so good for me - I was expelled for being "out of bounds without permission" (as a known rebel, but with no tangible evidence against me, I suspect that the school had wanted to get rid of me for a while).  It irked me later when the school sent me a letter, congratulating me on university results that they’d seen in the paper; they wished to remind me that I owed my success to them.  People don’t owe success to others – it has to come from themselves. 

I get a real thrill out of seeing individuals overcome what they had perceived as insurmountable obstacles - especially in their careers and personal lives.  Regardless of your educational background or upbringing, if you have the right skills, drive and focus, it is possible to achieve what at first might appear as impossible.  One of the best HR professionals that I know was a secretary to the Head of Risk in a bank and felt that she was trapped in an inescapable linear career, another was a member of the military police - both of these ladies felt that they were inferior/less well qualified than the HR professionals that they saw around them and hence that career was not open to them.  Both are now exemplary in their fields.  I was lucky to meet them, a simple catalyst, the right person in the right place to enable things to happen.  They steered their own paths – I just helped them to see the way...

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