WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo)

I want to move on in my career. I have been thinking about applying for a chief executive post but I don't think I am particularly charismatic or visionary. I am good, but will this be a problem for me?

Not necessarily. Remember there are many diverse organisations out there looking for different attributes from their leaders.

It is certainly true that the 'charismatic' leader dominates much of the leadership literature. In some cases this is simply a throwback to the 'great man' theory of leadership. Much previous leadership research has been dominated by 'the leader as a hero' idea, drawing on military or private sector examples. Indeed, for me one of the problems with leadership literature is that it is dominated by the commercial sector. There is very little academic literature that looks at leadership in our sector.

Charisma is a difficult concept. It is defined as "compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion" (OED). So no, you do not need to be charismatic to be a chief executive. If that were the case, we would be pretty short of chief executives in the sector. But you do need to have an enthusiasm and dedication.

You do need to be able to articulate the vision of the organisation and communicate that to your staff and volunteers and to all of your stakeholders. The reality is you are the head of the organisation, its key spokesperson. You are the person stakeholders relate to. You will be in the limelight.

But that does not have to be done in a macho, shouting sort of way. We can all give plenty of examples of incredible leaders who achieve support through their quiet dedication and commitment to the task. I can cite some great examples of good leaders who are not particularly good at public speaking or selling themselves, but have surrounded themselves with people who have these attributes. They have also spent time on developing their communication skills through relevant training.

Don't be put off by the idea that you have to be a celebrity or star to be a good chief executive. Concentrate on your strengths. When you are applying for a chief executive job, be clear about your particular skills and sell them to the organisation. In the meantime, if you have concerns about your areas of weakness, consider how you can work on them. One of the joys of the sector is its huge diversity and that means there will be at least 57 varieties of chief executives wanted out there. One of those jobs could well have your name on it.

Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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