An ousted charity founder should act with humility

A wise founder, if ousted, takes time to reflect and then offers services to an established charity rather than setting up a similar organisation, writes Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

According to the renowned psychologist Oliver James, in a Sunday Times article in January, chief executives are four times more likely than other people to be psychopaths.

This is because we are more likely to be vain, charismatic and persuasive, used to getting our own way, convinced that our decisions are right and prepared to carry them out, regardless of the fallout.

I probably have several of the core ingredients of a psychopath. Your chief executive does too. In my defence, if Nellie is pink and all elephants are pink, it does not necessarily mean Nellie is an elephant. But it is more likely.

I think I listen before making decisions, but there is a fine line between the genuine listener and the behaviour of a psychopath, who will appear to listen because he or she realises the appearance of listening is a useful tool for getting his own way. The psychopath mimics the behaviour of good leaders without understanding why people behave that way. He or she might be so good at this that you won't be able to tell the difference.

Now ask yourself: is your chief executive charismatic, persuasive, well presented, full of conviction and - apparently - a good listener?

If chief executives exhibit these qualities, charity founders can do so even more, and founders who become chief executives can hold almost unassailable power. If they develop a sense of ownership, eventually they might do something totally unacceptable, while still believing that founding the charity and their tendency to be right are sufficient excuses. Nepotism, bullying, theft - the courts have seen it all before in our sector.

Make-or-break decision

In such situations, trustees need stout hearts. They face a make-or-break decision to oust the founder. If they are lucky, this will be settled out of court (or decided in their favour by a court) and everyone still involved with the charity can get on with their jobs. It might even prosper without this domineering figure. But the founder might, in haste, set up another, similar type of charity - and in that scenario neither charity might prosper as much as they could.

A wise founder, if ousted, takes time to reflect and then offers services to an established charity, earning the trust of the people in charge by listening and taking instruction.

That said, in my experience some of the finest people I have known are founders who have been squeezed out by their ungrateful - and perhaps slightly envious - successors. They are treated like yesterday's people, an inconvenience or an irrelevance, when in fact they have immense experience and the wisdom to deploy it tactfully.

But in a dispute, if the founder or chief executive lacks self-awareness and humility, many people suffer and there will be blood on the floor.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus