Debra Allcock Tyler: Should we exchange our Saabs for Reliant Robins?

Charity managers must adapt to constrained circumstances, says our columnist

Phil, a mate of mine, is trying to decide what his next car should be. Not too difficult a question, one would have thought.

But Phil has an interesting perspective on the purchase. He drives a Saab, a large family car, which he bought at a time when his life was very different to the way it is now. So he wants to drive something different.

And here's where the difficulties begin, because he says he needs to think hard about the message that the car will send out about the man he is today and the man he may one day be. And that means engaging in a process of self-reflection and self- realisation that is neither easy nor entirely straightforward.

I thought this was such an illuminating way of viewing the need to recognise that one's life has changed and that things need to change with it. It made me wonder how open we are as leaders are to really reflecting on who we are and why we do what we do.

In our sector today, no matter how important we think our work is, the change of government - and consequent change of policy - means that many of us are being forced to look hard at our current way of doing things.

Are we in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing? Are we delivering services that we shouldn't be, or that won't be funded? Do we have the right people doing the right jobs? Are our structures and ways of doing things fit for purpose?

And is our vision right? Will what we aspire to be stand the test of our new environment, or do we need to completely rethink what we are here for? That's a heretical idea for most charities. The truth is that we sometimes get so attached to who we think we are that we forget to ask ourselves who we could be.

As leaders, our job is to consider whether we and our organisations are metaphorically driving a car that no longer suits our circumstances. Sure, we like Saabs, we know how to drive them. But we have to face the possibility that a Reliant Robin may actually be more fit for our new world. I drive a Mini Cooper, but I have no idea what that says about me. Answers on a postcard please ...

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