Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q. I've just been told I'll need to take three months out for an operation and recovery. I'm worried about how my charity will continue to thrive in my absence.

As Alexander Graham Bell said, "preparation is the key to success".

This situation is no exception. Start your preparations now.

But on no account consider delaying your operation. You must take care of number one, and you don't want your absence to be permanent. What you need to do now is work to enable the business to adapt and continue to succeed when you are away.

Challenge your fear of all your hard work stalling or failing in your absence. I doubt there is any evidence to support this. I expect you have gathered professional staff around you who are more than able to handle new challenges. They may even relish them. Don't forget that none of us is irreplaceable - although sometimes we all find it hard to believe.

Who could possibly fill your shoes? What succession planning do you already have in place? Do you have a potential internal candidate? A natural successor or a deputy? Also, consider an interim appointment.

Canvass views on potential candidates and possible solutions. Do you have any peers you can turn to for support and suggestions? You may also need assistance for your personal journey during this time. It's not all about the business - don't ignore your needs in this equation.

Once you have a way forward, start involving the acting chief executive in your work - for example, liaising with the board or taking on some of your activities or projects. Encourage him or her to take a greater level of ownership and authority.

What will you want them to handle, start or complete, and how do you brief them on the politics? They should take on all your appointments, internal and external, all your activities and working patterns. If someone is 'acting up', they and the rest of the team will have to prepare for the shift in dynamics of working relationships. Their colleagues become subordinates; they will work with your PA and chair in a new way, perhaps for the first time. Support them in this.

An internal staff member will also need to prepare for the workload and hours especially if they continue to carry out most of their existing duties. Give them an insight into how you manage this and help them think through strategies that will work for them. Their peer-support networks will be very important for them during this time.

Finally, all mentors, coaches and therapists advise that you consider the end at the beginning. Reflection on your return at this point is important.

Capitalise on the experience for the organisation, and it could be a great learning opportunity that strengthens it and your staff for the future.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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