Opinion: Tell egos to take a back seat

Peter Stanford

Trustees keep most of the operational details of a charity at arm's length, but the one area where you do tend to get dragged into the scrum is personnel. Time and again. Dragged is the operative word - kicking and screaming in my case. For once you've hunkered down, there is a rarely an easy way of exiting.

I once found myself trapped between an excellent chief executive and a very good head of fundraising. Their relationship had broken down and they had quite rightly called the trustees in to attempt to salvage something from the impasse that they found themselves in.

I was sent in as Henry Kissinger, but he was, in retrospect, absolutely the wrong role model. For my hope that we could hold on to both individuals was about as likely as Ian Paisley agreeing to serve under Gerry Adams. They simply didn't get on. It wasn't a managerial style issue, or a problem in the reporting process. They were just opposites, and the junior of the two coveted the CEO's job pretty nakedly.

Unlikely as it sounds now, it took me some time to achieve this insight.

So I battled through everything that was presented by them as an issue.

I even offered the pair of them more comforting hugs than Virginia Ironside.

And then one day, the tide of tears on my sodden shoulder washed some sense into me.

First, I was in way over my head. This wasn't an appropriate role for a trustee - or at least one with my aversion to confrontation. And second, peace was never going to reign. Someone had to go if the charity was to continue to function. Once I had got this far, the choice was clear.

When I first got involved in the squabbles and clashes that are part and parcel of life in the third sector (and beyond, I'm sure), my mentor once told me a very wise thing. There is no individual who is more important than the cause. It's so simple that it's hard to believe we ever lose sight of it. But we do. I do. Often. And that's when the exit route disappears, and whole organisations go into crisis.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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