Simon Edwards delivers speech at bath University


It is said that as young people we think we know everything, when we are in our middle years the doubts begin to creep in and as we grow old we know that we know nothing.  So I am in a rather odd position standing in front of an audience who thinks they know everything as a man who knows nothing.  So be kind.


In a Management School, I hesitate to offer the greatest quotation I know on the nature of leadership and management by one of WW2’ s most distinguished soldiers, Field Marshall Sir William Slim, but I hope it will help you understand the importance of leadership in a world crying out for it. 


There is a difference between leadership and management. The leader and the men who follow him represent one of the oldest, most natural and most effective of all human relationships. The manager and those he manages are a later product, with neither so romantic nor so inspiring a history. Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision: its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculation, of statistics, of methods, timetables and routine; its practice is a science. Managers are necessary; leaders are essential.


Another famous General from WW2, Charles de Gaulle said, Deliberation is the work of many men.  Action is of one alone.  Leaders act, however imperfectly, always prepared to fail since they know that failure is our greatest teacher.  Leaders generate an energy around which others can rally.   Beyond this, the leader’s role can best be expressed by the Adair model of leadership shown here:

TEAMS are made up of INDIVIDUALS and as I will argue later the TEAM has to have purpose to be effective: in the model this is the TASK.  The leader’s role is to constantly balance the needs of the three.  Too much emphasis on one will have a detrimental effect on the other: too much emphasis on the task and the needs of the team are overlooked leading to poor morale and reduced performance.   Too much emphasis on the individual and the task will never be completed.  Too much emphasis on the team and the individual can feel side-lined or get left behind.  A good leader will always be flexible enough to know where his or her focus needs to be. 


To be or not to be, that is the question.  Are you prepared to find the courage within yourselves to be a leader?  Today I will talk about leadership within the concept of a team and to bring it alive I hope through the prism of my own experience. A wise friend of mine once told me that we should live life looking forward but understand it looking back.  I now have longer to look back on than I have to time to look forward to, but it is interesting that a survey last week showed that the happiest age group are those in their late 50s and early 60’s a time span I now inhabit.  Looking back on my life three events conspired to set me on the course that has led to the foundation of Serve On, a new charity I have founded, to create teams with a purpose, more of which later.  They occurred in 1980, 1989 and 2000 respectively. 


The first was the retirement of Wilf Enright, my first Sergeant Major, when I was a young officer in what is now The Light Dragoons.  He was a first class leader and man manager commanding the right balance of tough love and respect.  His 22 year career came to an end and he was discharged to live out the rest of his working life as a security guard at Newcastle Airport.  I reflected on the waste of talent in which the taxpayer had already made a significant investment.   At the same time I also learned a very important lesson on team leadership as a young troop leader fresh out of Sandhurst.  My driver, Tpr Winfield challenged me on my first day.  He asked me what right I had to lead the team, my tank troop.  I was about to point out that I had just graduated from the top leadership academy in the world, when an inner voice stopped me as I realized that respect didn’t come up with the rations; you had to earn it.  Interestingly Tpr Winfield went onto become a millionaire.  I struggle on. 


In 1989, while still serving, I was tasked with creating the security plans for some 30 prisons as a contingency against a Prison Officers’ strike.  I will never forget the day I walked in to my first Young Offenders’ Institution and saw hundreds of hopeless young men whose lives had been consigned to society’s dustbin before they had even started, discarded as a child would discard an unwanted toy: I could only see them as a massive pool of unrealized potential, whose lives had not stood a chance since the moment they were conceived.  There was nothing I could do then, but it made a big impact on me.


In 2000, after a political battle over securing funding, I lost the job that I had created running the Pierre Victoire chain of restaurants.  It came at a point in my life, as happens to all those who suffer loss or trauma, that triggers those vital questions.  ‘What is my life all about? What is my purpose?’  It was at this point that I remembered those hopeless young men.   What struck me at the time was that each was a unique human being with endless potential.  Society was quite happy to see that potential rot and pay the price for it.  But could I?  I have always been very struck by the words of Jimmy Reid, the Glaswegian trade union leader who talked of walking through the tenements of his city,


Behind every one of these windows is somebody who might be a horse-jumping champion, a formula one racing champion, a yachtsman of great degree, but he'll never know because he'll never step on a yacht or formula one car - he'll never get the chance.

If we view people as beings of potential, then that potential is there in everyone.  Through my experience I have witnessed this potential and have great faith in it.  Because of the tough reality they have faced, those who have struggled with life have a gift for those who have not.  But we need to believe in this collectively and create the means of drawing it out, because it’s from the margins of society that social transformation can be achieved.  As well as those in prison there is approximately 20% of the population, often generationally unemployed, usually unemployable, for whom this is true.  The words aspiration and opportunity do not generally feature in their vocabulary.   I believe that teams are the solution.


Churchill famously said that the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the unfailing tests of the civilization of any country. For me this was the start of a voyage of discovery, both through experience and internal reflection, to try and understand how we measure up today.  It is a journey about human behaviour and why we are the way we are. It has taken me from schools to prisons from boardrooms to the Arabian desert from the challenges of entrepreneurship to the human casualties of modern warfare.  Yet it is a universal journey where I discovered that we are all, to some extent, locked into prisons of our own making. Prisons primarily determined by fear.  We have created societies that are based on fear through which politicians take more and more power.  When something bad happens, the universal cry goes up, ‘Something must be done’.  Over time we have sub-contracted personal responsibility to the state.  But I have learned that by accepting personal responsibility as individuals we can achieve the change we seek.


In 2001 I set up my first charity BELIEVE which was designed to help those hope-less young men discover something good within themselves which would give them the foundation to transform their lives.  By believing in their potential they were able to begin to believe in themselves.  By using a combination of coaching and mentoring I began to map out a model of transition, that began to make a big impact on lives, but I realized this was not enough.  Many came from dysfunctional family backgrounds with no role models.  The only community to support a rite of passage for these young men was similar young men who have also lacked these foundations for responsible living; hence the popularity of gangs.  I realized that there was a need to create alternative gangs to provide for the needs of nascent young man.  One of the objectives of BELIEVE was to create a mutually supportive environment within which young men could find these role models through mentoring in a way that allows them to make sense of their lives.  Over the years I realized that even this was insufficient.  They need community, family, teams within which the resources were available to support the transition from the highly institutionalized world of prison where every aspect of life is directed and where all personal survival needs are fulfilled, to full personal responsibility.  The transition would be coordinated in a personalised way for the individual, within a culture that was conducive to rehabilitation. This became the basis for the model for the Pathfinder programme more recently developed with Help for Heroes to manage the transition from the Armed Forces in to civilian life.  The parallels are considerable, but the model allows the past to be confronted within a safe environment of peers while the root causes of ‘loss’ and failure to manage transition can be addressed.  The coaching element is key in helping individuals answer the question ‘Who am I?’ and establishing a purpose for life while understanding and coordinating the support of personal needs.  By creating a Personal Development Plan all aspects of an individual’s life can be combined in a way that the team can support their rehabilitation journey, with mentors providing the inspiration, empowerment and guidance that will help them find purposeful lives.


From prisons I was then head hunted to co-found THE MOWGI FOUNDATION, established to inspire and support entrepreneurship initially in the Middle East and North Africa but then across the developing world.  Entrepreneurship is so important to this region and overcoming the obstacles to starting businesses that create jobs for those young men and women is a vital part of maintaining security.  I designed a new model for mentoring that allowed it to work effectively across national and cultural boundaries often remotely. I realized that we can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them.  It is easy to live life thinking that the problems of the world are always someone else’s.  ‘Something must be done’ is the universal cry with no sense that we carry a responsibility to contributing to the solution.  Take world poverty.  People have traditionally responded to the world’s poor through generosity.  The 20th century paradigm was to support them through aid: an act of financial generosity.  But this is not sustainable.  From government aid to Live Aid there has never been a challenge in raising huge amounts of money.  Collectively we can salve our consciences by seeing a tiny proportion of our taxes spent on overseas aid or making an online payment or dropping coins in a collection tin – job done.  Others can work out how to spend it.  Nothing changes.  People remain poor and suffering continues.  Another expensive elastoplast over an ever gaping wound.   But aid levels are dropping with the world economy and anyway it needn’t be like this. Travelling to some of the poorest parts of the world, I am struck by the number of smiling faces amongst, what we would view, as the most abject poverty.  They have nothing in material terms; they battle to survive from day to day.  They cannot rely on the basics of food, water and shelter.  How can they be so happy?  I have come to appreciate that the reason is simple.  Their lives aren’t filled with busyness and doing.  They aren’t attached to stuff and they aren’t bombarded with advertising reinforcing a lack of self-esteem.   They simply are and in that connection to themselves, their self-supporting communities (teams) and the world around them they find true happiness. 


I soon realized while operating on a much wider canvas that as human beings we are uniquely the same and that all our problems begin within each of us: when we change and begin to fulfil our potential, the world around us can change too. We need a new model for life based on empowerment and co-operation. True generosity stems from a generosity of spirit: a giving of ourselves with no expectation of return.  What if it were possible to create successful businesses, which delivered both a return on investment and began to alleviate poverty?  Through nourishing entrepreneurship, economic, social and political change can be driven in a way that could achieve this. By transforming ourselves we can inspire a new generation of leaders.  This is where THE MOWGLI FOUNDATION has made a difference: matching skilled and experienced mentors with budding entrepreneurs in developing countries, beginning to unleash the extraordinary potential that remains largely untapped.  I spent the weekend in Algeria training up a group of locals to lead the programme I have designed so that the impact already established can become viral and bring around sustainable change.  In addition to providing opportunities for visionary entrepreneurs, small businesses become important drivers for economic and social growth in these communities: providing jobs, capital, and an improved economic outlook and future for many bringing hope where there is none.  But perhaps the most sustainable change has been that of attitudes and behaviours which have had an impact way beyond entrepreneurship.


These experiences provide the backdrop to the motivation to founding SERVE ON to be a force for good in the world.  SERVE ON draws together all my life experience and understanding of the human condition into one entity.  It is a new type of charity setting people free from the past, however bad that may have been, to allow them to make their unique contribution to the world.  Participation is the future of humanity as we escape the individualism that has dogged us for so long and remember that as human beings we only fully function in teams and in community.  This why the Armed Forces are so effective since they recognize this, which makes them prime candidates to lead this quiet army of change.  Too many charities focus on the immediate first aid of victims.  While this is necessary it isn’t sustainable.  SERVE ON aims to empower people to take personal responsibility for their lives so that they can be in a position to lead others.


One of the Algerian mentors I was training at the weekend asked me, ‘What is the secret of success?’  It is a good question to ask yourself in the in the highly competitive material you are about to join.  I have learned that it is only by finding your purpose and remaining true to it that both happiness and success emerge.  We find ourselves by losing ourselves in the service of others said Gandhi.  I have learned this to be true.  I was living a self-indulgent half-life until I began to fully dedicate myself to the service of others.  It has meant huge sacrifices and heartbreaking struggles for me and my family, but I am still standing and what I have achieved in the last 14 years, I would not exchange for any amount of material wealth.  I have learned, and witnessed in many others, that it is through suffering and struggle we have the opportunity to fully find our true selves.  I have learned that life is like a jigsaw puzzle.  We are born with our own unique piece.  The first part of our life is to discern its shape.  The second part of life is to find the humility to sacrifice our piece to something greater than ourselves to create the perfect picture.  Interestingly the word ‘sacrifice’ means to make whole.  In short we only become whole in a community with others: a team.   Compare the concepts of humility and sacrifice with the phenomenon of The Apprentice, where failure is not an option.  See how the Ego intrudes and performance collapses.  The truth is we only truly find ourselves in teams.  As long as we are trying to find out who we are on our own we will be too focused on ourselves to be effective.  Also alone we can be very self-destructive.  As one of our Algerian mentors told me at the weekend ‘we have to learn to love ourselves, because if we don’t we can’t love others and perform effectively in a team.  We will always feel inferior’.  This is not the arrogance of the apprentice but the quiet self-assurance of someone who is happy within their own skin.  I mentioned that I am a graduate of Sandhurst and the underlying principle we were taught to live by was to be ‘masters of ourselves’ that we may ‘serve to lead’.  In other words you can’t be an effective team player or leader if you are constantly worrying about whether you are good enough.  Effective teams allow every individual to discover their unique contribution within a set of shared values, and then work with them to fulfil their potential.  Then we can participate with authenticity and confidence in a deep relationship of trust.  The key is in the word ‘confidence’ which means to ‘reveal the truth within’.  When we are living out our own truth we don’t need to fear whether we are as good as the next man.  We just are!  Another talk but I use a very profound tool called the Hero’s Journey to help individuals realize their full potential as human beings.


SERVE ON is for everyone; it allows everyone to participate in making a difference, being the change.  Counter intuitively however we aim to use the two parts of society who have plumbed the depths of the human condition to be the catalyst for leadership.  The taxpayer has already invested heavily in recruiting, training and maintaining our servicemen.  My work on the Pathfinder programme, an innovative personalised transition management initiative developed with Help for Heroes has made me confront the brutality of the casualties of war.  Young men and women who have had limbs and minds ripped away struggling to confront the scars of war, the night terrors, the failed relationships, the loss of identity and self-esteem.  Even as an ex soldier I can only conclude that war is a failure of humanity.  As we finally pull out of Afghanistan there is an opportunity find another way.


As epitomized in my first sergeant major, I see the huge potential that these ex servicemen can bring to our society.  They have extraordinary qualities, essential to teams: integrity, loyalty, resilience, confidence, courage, inspiration and the sheer ability to get things done.  They have natural leadership and aren’t afraid to take responsibility.  Allied with some amazing transferable skills and experience, they provide the perfect foundation for leadership in SERVE ON.  Because they are great role models I want to use them to work with those on the margin of society, who themselves have faced the tough reality of life, young offenders, long-term unemployed (NEETs) and gangs.  And they understand teamwork.  Indeed their very lives depend upon it.  You must wonder as you watch the 100 year old newsreel of young men pouring out of their safe trenches into the teeth of machine gun fire, ‘what on earth made them do this’?  You may also wonder how young men of your age to this day are able to lead a patrol in Afghanistan not knowing whether the next step will blow them apart.  The answer is simple: on one hand they don’t want to let their mates down but on a deeper level the love they have for one another is greater than the fear of being killed.  Or as GK Chesterton eloquently put it: The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” And that is the nature of courage: simply love.  I have heard several double amputees say how lucky they are compared to a mate who had lost three limbs and many of them say that they wouldn’t go back to the whole men that they were, because through loss they had found something more profound: their true selves.  And this is the paradox of life: often we only really find ourselves when we are really tested or when we are at the bottom of the pit of life.  And this is the opportunity. 


Unemployment leads to social exclusion to which gangs provide an ugly antidote, while both can lead to prison with up to 80% of young offenders reoffending costing the taxpayer billions to keep the merry go round inexorably circling in its cycle of misery.


The sense of hopelessness that unemployment creates is difficult at any stage in life. But it is especially bad when people are young robbing them of the opportunity to gain valuable skills and knocking their sense of self-esteem doing lasting damage to their prospects in life (Supporting Youth Unemployment – the Coalition’s approach) 


82% of entry-level employers rated attitude and work ethic as important to progression versus 38% for literacy and numeracy, (Centre of Social Justice Report)


The rise in gangs is partly driven by a hard wired need of young men, particularly, to belong to something greater than themselves with a purpose beyond themselves The top down approach to social policy can miss the true nature of the problem and serves to further isolate communities which already feel marginalised from mainstream society. A long-term approach to gangs will require the empowerment of affected communities: we must work with them rather than continuing to do things to them. (Dying to Belong Report Centre for Social Justice 2009)


SERVE ON is set up to create an innovative team based approach to reducing reoffending, tackling youth unemployment and providing a positive gang for those who seek to be part of something greater than themselves.  Led by those who have served in the Armed Forces or the emergency services, I want to give everyone who participates the opportunity to engage in a long-term team based sustainable relationship through which they can find their unique contribution to the world in service of others.   But teams have to have a purpose to be effective.  And individuals need to have purpose too to fulfil their potential.  So much is done for the marginalized but they are rarely empowered to contribute and we have to believe that everyone has a unique contribution to make.  This is why we have established teams, which ultimately I see developing into a new style national service, a movement around which anyone can participate and any purpose can be fulfilled.  We use those who have served in our Armed Forces alongside members of our emergency services.   Our mission is to train and equip veterans of the Armed Forces and Emergency Services to inspire and lead those with unrealized potential in order to meet need wherever it exists.  We are achieving this through two levels of team: local and global.


SERVE ON Community Resilience Teams (CRTs)


We plan to create a national network of CRTs.  As well as the professionally trained membership they will be a rallying point for volunteers providing a trained, disciplined, committed resource to assist the Emergency Services during flooding, heatwaves, snowstorms, power cuts, fuel strikes, epidemics, missing persons searches, major incidents and a wide range of other emergencies.   They will help communities prepare for emergencies by providing resilience training as well as being a proactive resource that can initiate and implement a range of community projects: think DIY SOS on a greater scale.  They will be initially established and consolidated by veterans to ensure that there is a firm well-trained foundation to include those on the margins of society.   The CRT can be used as basis for team based community sentencing and rehabilitation as well as opportunities for those seeking work to acquire the skills and experience that will help them become more employable or even entrepreneurial.  This will give them a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves while being able to make a difference, giving a purpose.  Individual members of the team will use the opportunity to build personal development plans supported by a mentor from within the team.  They will acquire values, confidence and resilience and will become a broker of hope for those in need.


The CRT will create more resilient communities able to help themselves in times of disruption while helping to reduce anti-social behaviour by providing community leadership, role models and activities.   Nationally they will provide a credible network of recognised volunteer community response teams to improve the capacity to respond to and recover from disaster.  It is a model that can be exported anywhere in the world creating a credible network of recognised volunteer community response teams to improve the global response to and long-term recovery from disasters while reducing the psychosocial impacts of disaster by providing a community support network as part of the rebuilding process.  Already we are talking to government representatives in Nepal and Pakistan.


SERVE ON International Response Team (IRT)


The IRT is a volunteer emergency response team with over 20 years' experience and 22 international deployments, able to deploy 24/7.  Its capabilities include flood rescue, Urban Search and Rescue, Disaster Response, Command & Control, Relief Team co-ordination. Its capabilities will be extended to embrace a range of disaster contingencies. Members of the IRT are trained to a high level of resilience and expertise.  It can currently deploy internationally and within the UK (it responded to Wiltshire floods in Feb 2014).  To meet the individual volunteers is to understand the nature of teams.  Each brings their unique contribution with humility.  Each is able to offer leadership when required, but here are no egos.  To do what they do under the conditions they endure requires levels of teamsmanship of the highest order.  It is a privilege to serve with people who not only give up their time and pay their expenses but are willing to put their lives on the line in order to save others.  There exists a generosity of spirit that if we could bottle and put in every team, whatever their purpose would make the world a better place.


So SERVE ON aims to be a game changer.  Bringing a fresh response to some of the most deep-rooted challenges in our world while liberating individuals from the prisons of themselves to fulfil the potential they have been born with.  We will recycle those who have been trained to take life and retrain them to save lives.  We will turn the lives of those who have experienced tough realties into a force for good, understanding that it is often only at the bottom of the pit that we confront that stranger: our true selves.  SERVE ON is releasing leadership creating an established, enduring national and international movement to inspire service worldwide through sustainable team based participation, paying forward any benefit received.  And then one by one and silently we can be the change for which the world is craving.


The biggest challenge is to find a way of making it sustainable.  I have a vision of a movement called ‘One Good Turn’ where in return for one good turn to another person, the recipient makes a small donation to SERVE ON.  But this is yet to happen.  In conclusion SERVE ON is designed to be the elusive Big Society.  The Big Society is happening, but it is happening from the bottom up.  Politicians, by their very nature, have a minimal role to play.  Until they learn to let go of power and the means to support it, they will be stuck in the old paradigm. Leadership is no longer about power and money; it is about the common good.  We need to have the confidence to embrace a new approach where we take the lead, where we become the change.  And the only way of finding out is making that act of faith, taking that first step into uncertainty where we can begin to reveal the certainty of our being.  We remember those who have died to give us freedom: the freedom to choose between the prison of fear and the liberation of being.  It is a choice between the worst and the best of the human condition and never has the world depended more on us making the right choice and taking a lead.  True freedom is the freedom to pursue what is good in life.  And it all starts within teams where we begin to understand the power of human relationship since it only through relationship that we discover our unique contribution to the world.  In what is becoming a more self-obsessed individualistic and lonely world we need to find ways of bringing people together in teams in service to the world.  And teams need leaders.  Each one of you has the potential.  Remember To be or not to be – that is your question.