Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Reflections on Leadership.

Both main Party Leaders have talked at their Conferences about their leadership role. We tend to discount reflections from politicians about leadership but we shouldn't.

Being Leader of a political party must be a relentless, full on and difficult task. You are rarely thanked and have to put up with some gross nonsense; Cameron with the pics of him on the beach changing, or the disgusting articles in the Daily Mail about Ed's father (which really plumb new depths in so-called journalism).

Politicians are held in low esteem, but imagine how those in our sector would cope with this sort of publicity?

The job of a charity CEO is not in the same league, but there are parallels. One word you don't tend to find on the CEO job spec is resilience. But you need that in spades.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but the CEO's job is a lonely one. It can be hugely stressful. I was interested in the interviews with the CEO of Lloyds Bank when he admitted the job had been so hard he had been told by doctors to take time out. I doubt anything in our world matches the scale of the Lloyds problems, but if you are running a charity and the financial pressure is such you fear the organisation may go under, that is a huge strain on the CEO. In ACEVO we continue to get calls to our CEO in crisis line. Only last week we had to refer 4 CEOs to our legal and advice support services. This is at a level we have never experienced in ACEVO for a decade - so it gives you an idea of the real difficulties being faced by members.

That level of stress and pressure can have consequences if we are not resilient and part of our core function as ACEVO is to provide help to the individual CEO; that's part of our public benefit mission to improve governance and charity well-being in our sector. We are the only body that does this work and I know from members who have been supported how valuable that is.

When matters get personal and things move from a criticism of decisions to personal attack - as can happen to politicians - then it's particularly difficult to know how to respond, let alone the toll it takes on you. I had a taste of this myself over the summer when a routine ACEVO stakeholder event in the Lords, for which I paid half (as some family were there too and a birthday cake was brought out), was portrayed in the Daily Mail as a personal birthday party - as though anyone writing such a story would invite a heap of politicians, journalists and other stakeholders to their birthday party! Difficult to know how to respond to this, in the wake of the stories on CEO pay in certain sections of the media. It was clear this was a particular media attempt to undermine my robust defence of executive pay.  I have to say the firm response of many members who saw through the attacks was enormously comforting, though I worry that the episode may put off others from being so upfront on explaining the need for professional pay.

In a leadership position, ultimately, you have to accept that speaking out brings consequences. So resilience is needed. The bottom line is always what is good for the clients, members or beneficiaries you represent. It can be a tough and unpleasant job to get right.

1 comment:

DeeP said...

You're right. It's also important to note that while "politicians are held in low esteem", the only reason that so-called journalists can sell Cameron changing or the insulting smears on Milliband's Dad is that we want media-friendly, socially spotless leaders.

They invest immense amounts in convincing us that they fulfil this criteria, then once they are in the spotlight, 'our' media does everything they can to find fault.

Like the U.S., we are sold on personality first, policy second.