Career coach: How to juggle accountability

Charity chief executives shouldn't try to please all of the people all of the time.

My chief executive friend was incredulous. "You're not writing your Third Sector column on a sunny bank holiday afternoon are you?", she asked. I didn't want to offend her sensibilities further by telling her that I had spent the morning filing a pile of paperwork.

It's a bit of a guilty pleasure to spend a day when I can guarantee I won't be disturbed catching up on work. I'm lucky in that, once I've waved farewell to my last client of the day, my only accountability is to myself - within the boundaries of professional ethics and standards, of course.

This led me to reflect on the uniquely florid picture of accountability faced by third sector chief executives. You are responsible to so many people - your often multiple funders, trustees, staff and client group or membership - all of whom have their own distinct sets of demands and views. In particular, chief executives of smaller organisations feel the weight of these responsibilities very heavily because they rarely have the buffer of a deputy chief executive or senior management team to assist them in servicing these diverse groups.

So how do you please everybody? I imagine that's the question many chief executives ask when they are faced with the demands of so many different parties. It is, of course, impossible - not least when situations arise in which the requirements or demands of one group conflict with those of another.

Discussing this issue with leaders, I have learned that, like mothers of large families, you must cook something that most people will eat and present it with aplomb at the table. Hopefully, there will be something to everyone's taste and no one will go hungry. The key is to hold on to your confidence, which can feel compromised if you are attempting to win the approval of others.

Juggling and balancing multiple accountability means that you will delight certain people and disappoint others.

It may be helpful at such times to remind yourself that part of your raison d'etre as chief executive is to make decisions based on your own good judgement. Suspending your need for external approval is helpful self-management when making decisions. The results may not bring a pat on the back from everyone, but if you are confident in the position you take then at least you won't be twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to keep everyone happy.

- Amanda Falkson is a psychotherapist who runs monthly Tough at the Top groups for voluntary sector chief executives.

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