Mark Flannagan: Charisma? Give me competence every time

Being able to do the job efficiently is the most underrated attribute of the charity leader, writes the chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

Being a charity chief executive is a privilege. It's galling, therefore, when it looks as if all it really takes to be a successful chief executive is "charisma". Too often there is a fine line between charisma and ego. Unfortunately, politicians are often drawn towards the flamboyant charity leader who makes things simple and is attractive to be around. But charisma in a leader often masks an inefficient organisation living from hand to mouth, relying on publicity just to survive.

Even the alternative of "passion" can be overrated. Being passionate motivates you and makes it easier to keep focused when the going gets tough. But give me competence over personality and passion: competence is the most underrated attribute – the ability to do something effectively and efficiently.

Our job is something for which we have had to train hard. We need a detailed knowledge of financial management, cash flow, reserves policy and medium-term planning. We also need to know how to build an effective and challenging team to ensure the aims of the charity are put first. We need to learn how to work with a trustee board, to guarantee their role as independent and tough overseers of our charities.

To be a charity chief executive you need to be ambitious, focused on success and comfortable with taking calculated risks. These are the qualities you associate with an ability to make a difference. But it has to be built upon strong and sustainable foundations. I hope that one outcome of recent events in the sector is a better appreciation that the most successful charities are led by competent chief executives, whose skills lie in professional management of complex organisations.

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