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On leadership and leaving the ladder down

Kate Richards - RCVS President 2021-22

In the next of our series of blogs from the RCVS Presidential Team, Kate Richards, RCVS President, writes about the many types of leadership.

A former colleague recently texted me, ‘Congratulations on becoming the fairy at the very top of the veterinary Christmas tree and I hope you will make all our dreams come true.’

Kate Richards Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and guises. Reflecting on my career I am reminded of those who have and continue to inspire me. In my second practice the senior partner was such a man. He was a strong and silent type who invited me to his family Christmas lunch when I was the new assistant. He was a mentor to me before I knew what a mentor did. He supported me when a cow which I’d operated on died a week later of peritonitis. When I wrote off my car, he appeared at the side of the road, my Jack Russell under his arm, as I was stretchered into the ambulance. He involved me in projects to keep my interest in the practice and paved my way to the partnership.

When I was working as a Temporary Veterinary Inspector in Page St, Defra’s HQ in Westminster, I was inspired by the manager. Despite the pressure of the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001, he remained reserved, calm and approachable, and always had time to answer my questions. When a vacancy came up at Defra a year later I applied, influenced by my experience of his leadership and became a member of his team.

I was recruited to a communications role in HMRC by another type of leader, this time an extrovert. He introduced me to colleagues in the department, tax experts and policy officials, with, ‘Meet Kate, she’s a vet!’ My Dad started calling me the VAT vet. In a corporate communications role I negotiated my first job where a vet degree was not a necessity, although all the communications and relationship building skills I’d accumulated were invaluable. I’m still in touch with my HMRC manager on Facebook!

A couple of years later I applied for a promotion to the Office of Rail Regulation. Unsuccessful at second interview, one of the panel offered to meet me for feedback over coffee. I don’t remember her name but she gave me invaluable encouragement and support. I remember being so impressed that she took an hour out of her life with no expectation that we would ever meet again or I could find some way to repay her kindness. I was, and am, so grateful to her as well as my several mentors, advocates and role models throughout my career. They left their career ladders down and reached out to help me climb up. 

So now I am President of the RCVS, the fairy at the very top of the veterinary Christmas tree. I don’t see myself as a flamboyant leader, you won’t see me waving my arms around, well not much anyway. My natural habitat is in with the pack, though I am happy to lead from the front as necessary and appropriate. What I aspire to do is lead by example, to reach out and share my experiences and expertise for the benefit of others, to pass the baton to the next generation of veterinary leaders.

Leaders are all around us and every member of the team plays an important role. I am reminded about the story of JFK who visited the NASA Space Centre in 1962. When he spotted the janitor with a broom, he walked over to speak to him.

‘Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy,’ he said, ‘What are you doing?’

‘Well Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon,’ the janitor replied.

Published on 25 November 2021