The Leadership Lab: Professor Dame Sally Mapstone DBE, FRSE

Dive into my eye-opening conversation with Professor Dame Sally Mapstone as we unpack her leadership journey, her daily mantra, and reveal the hardest decision she's ever had to make as a leader.

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Leadership is an approach as much as it is an outcome, and it is an approach that we want many more women at St Andrews to consider themselves skilled in and to use across the many parts of this University – as well as elsewhere in their lives.

I have had the enormous privilege of meeting Professor Dame Sally Mapstone on numerous occasions. I have always been impressed by her leadership. She is one of the hardest working VCs that I know, has phenomenally high standards and is not afraid to tackle head-on complex and controversial subjects. So I was absolutely thrilled when she agreed to be our next guest on the Leadership Lab, discussing her leadership journey, what surprises people to know about her, what drives her and her daily mantra.

I knew a lot about her journey (a litany of firsts and achievements); the rest was a revelation and reminded me, yet again, how easy it is to make superficial and entirely inaccurate assumptions based purely on externals. In our interview, she talked about the hardest thing she has ever had to do as a leader. It is towards the end of our lengthy and, I hope you will agree, absorbing conversation. It is one of the most powerful examples of the complexity and challenges of being a good leader. My heartfelt thanks to Sally for her openness and the valuable advice she shares, from transcending the rule book and developing moral muscle, to why anger isn’t a useful emotion and leadership is a daily task. 

This is inspiring and important advice not just for our Scholars but for all current and future leaders. Enjoy.


01:17 | What sparked the beginning of your leadership journey?

03:00 | Did you encounter significant challenges on your leadership journey?

04:06 | Are people often surprised to learn that you once led the National Union of Journalists?

05:46 | Are there other unexpected aspects of your background or personality that might surprise people?

08:20 | Given that you face certain prejudices in leadership roles, do you feel compelled to project a stronger or more forceful persona?

09:46 | Your career trajectory started in publishing and then shifted back to academia. Was this transition part of a long-term plan?

11:44 | What key skills have you transferred from your editorial role to your current position as the Vice Chancellor of one of the world’s top universities?

14:07 | You're known for your organisational prowess and efficiency. Why do you think you weren't well-suited for the role of a personal assistant?

15:58 | Upon becoming Vice Chancellor, you immediately prioritised social responsibility for the university. What inspired this decision, and what was the initial reaction?

19:13 | What other initiatives have you implemented at St. Andrews to reinforce your commitment to combating social injustice?

21:53 | What have been the outcomes of admitting students from disadvantaged backgrounds under minimum entry requirements?

24:41 | You’ve pledged to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2025. Can you elaborate on this commitment?

27:19 | You are the second female Vice Chancellor of St. Andrews. Why do you think it took so long to reach this milestone?

30:41 | Was it advantageous to succeed someone known for their outspokenness, or did that present challenges for you?

32:32 | You set exceptionally high standards as a leader. Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist, and how do you cultivate high-performing teams?

35:54 | What traits do you believe are crucial for effective leadership?

40:25 | Do you feel that students are overly critical of individuals who hold differing opinions or viewpoints?

44:31 | What has been the most difficult decision or action you've had to take as a leader?

49:57 | What guidance would you offer for developing a strong ethical foundation or moral compass?

54:34 | What is the accomplishment you are most proud of?

56:05 | What makes you angry?

57:22 | What question would you like to pose to our next guest?

If you found this episode enlightening, you won't want to miss our inaugural episode with François Ortalo-Magné, the exceptional Dean of London Business School. We delve deep into the nuances of leadership, exploring its complexities and the moral gray areas that come with it—a must-watch for anyone interested in the multifaceted nature of leadership.

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