As someone who was raised and lived in multiple countries, I was incredibly excited by the idea of learning from Matthew Rycroft CBE, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. Mr Rycroft is a British civil servant with a highly successful career in global affairs and across other areas of public service. I have summarised below some of my key takeaways and observations from the Masterclass, hoping that it’ll help you to reflect on your professional journey thus far.
Much of the Masterclass discussion was centred around Matthew’s career progression, his time as the UN Ambassador and work as the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. When asked about his Foreign Office career, Mr Rycroft defined diplomacy as forging those bridges between different countries and societies to find a common good. He noted that ‘diplomacy is about real life, and public service is about helping others” –which reflected his dedication to public service and purpose-led work. Matthew candidly confessed that even after his many years of experience as a Diplomat, he still experienced shivers down the spine when representing the UK as an Ambassador. His ambassador role gave him the opportunity to problem solve and find a way through challenging development issues and foreign policy questions, including climate change and other social problems that require global cooperation.
As an Educator with a passion for social innovation and an advocate for young people who are traditionally underrepresented, I found Rycroft’s advice that we should approach our life and career with an underpinning mindset of curiosity incredibly appealing. Adopting a learning mindset is a great way to explore the world around you while learning fast and growing quickly.
Another key lesson I took from this masterclass session was on the value and importance of maintaining and nurturing relationships in your career. Many of us have heard countless times about the need to not only forge but effectively sustain social networks over time. While some do it with ease and confidence, it’s not always the case for others. I was pleasantly surprised to see Matthew’s former boss on the call, taking some time out of his busy schedule to speak highly of him and their working and now personal relationship. This gesture was indicative of the role some relationships can play in your career progression and the support they can offer at different stages of one’s working life, and how crucial it is to pay it forward.
Matthew also mentioned that much of our working career requires compromise and adaptability. However, we must not compromise our voice. He encouraged us to speak truth to power and to know what battles we commit to fighting for. Matthew also talked about the crucial role his value systems have played in determining the trajectory of his professional decisions. And if you don’t know what your values are, then taking the time to reflect and talking to others are helpful ways to gain an understanding of your non-negotiables.
Finally, Matthew concluded the Masterclass by talking about his preferred leadership style, giving us an insight into how he views staff development. My key takeaway from this part of the Masterclass is that leadership is about giving others the space to flourish. He recommended getting management experience as early as you can as it’s never too early to practice. As we move up the professional ladder, we have more people to manage and fewer people to look up to. Therefore, what your staff members might need from you is what you needed from your bosses earlier on, so always put yourself in someone’s shoes and remember you were once where they are now.
To summarise, this Masterclass offered some fantastic insight into an international career in global affairs, allowed for introspection around my professional aspirations and made me reflect on my motivations and values. Things will change within the span of my career, so we must be adaptable and open to changing our world-views as new information becomes available. We must try to spot whatever growing issues are and get behind them.
Written by Janira Borges, 2021 Masterclass Programme Participant