Noel speaks at Sandhurst Military Academy

Last week, Noel had the opportunity to speak at The Sandhurst Military Academy to give the cadets there a lecture on leadership. Here is what Noel wanted to share about his experience!


Last week I had the honour of giving a lecture at the Sandhurst Military Academy. This was a first for me. It was a lecture on leadership. When you’re furrowing your way through life building a vet practice, you don’t really focus on leadership, you just get on with the job, one animal at a time. It’s only when you look back that it becomes apparent what leadership actually means.

I dedicated the lecture to my dear friend and mentor Philip Gilbert. When I was in the middle of one of my many crises of confidence, when things were at the bottom of their darkness and I confided in him that I didn’t know the reason why, he gave me the best advice anyone ever has.

He said “Noel, it’s not for you to find the reason why; it is for you to find a reason big enough.” 

Well, I found my reason big enough, and that is to look after the welfare of animals everywhere, to encourage respect for the animal kingdom, both domestic and wild, and to encourage doctors of veterinary and human medicine to work closer together so that animals win too.

I tried to reflect in my lecture a dozen aspects of leadership. These focussed on the core values that are essential to make the kind of responsible change necessary for effective leadership. I tried to reflect the core values of the military which are courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment. I emphasised that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care and that this is true in any walk of life and so very important in a compassionate society. I ended by talking about how our moral responsibility to animals leaves an important legacy for the next generation and tried to explain that all worthwhile change will meet with challenges, criticism and rejection, which you need to be brave enough to accept. I think that the military cadets present really empathised with this.

It was so very wonderful to see the light coming on in their eyes and to feel that what I was trying to do was worthwhile.

Afterwards when I spoke to some of them they told me that the single biggest message they took away was to “dream big”. These are young men and women that are serving their country and giving of themselves to protect our collective right to dream – so to give them messages of hope and inspiration back was my privilege.

As I drove back and passed our new cancer centre building in Guildford which will open in September, I remembered again how the dream really does need to be big. I feel that I have only just begun on this journey and there remains so much to do for our animal friends. Still, I slept last night in the knowledge that there were 280 young people also dreaming big. In their lifetimes they can each make their little bit of the world a better place. If we all do that together then we really can make a massive difference.

Thank you Sandhurst. You have shared with me far more than I have with you. Thank you for spending your time with me and thank you for all that you do in society to protect all of our dreams. May you all find your reason big enough.