Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: I'm doing a staff training event in Poland. I've got cheap fares and digs, but it's going to be raised at the board. What do I say?

A: Simple. Be firm. Tell them this is your business and, depending on how you feel, tell them to stop being so xenophobic.

I presume your board has agreed your budget for the year and that this included an element for staff training and development. I also assume you've looked carefully at the logistics and the budgeting for this event.

I'm quite sure you are going to be paying far less for an event in Poland than you would if you'd organised it in this country and had to pay exorbitant train fares and hotel fees.

Fuddy-duddy trustee?

In any case, what's the problem with Poland? Is this just some fuddy-duddy trustee who thinks that going abroad is some sort of jaunt? We need to be a little less insular in the sector and not assume that a development session held in Tunbridge Wells is going to be hard work and a session in Poland is a jaunt.

There are very distinct possibilities for all of us in looking at the potential for events in Europe. Given that you can pick up flights for under £20 and inexpensive accommodation, this must be a sensible option.

It has the added value of a change of scene and culture, which can encourage creative thinking. If you hold such an event at the beginning or end of the week it would allow some staff, if they wanted, to stay on for a few days to enjoy the wonderful sights and culture that Poland has to offer.

And why not?

World-wide knowledge

There is a broader issue of how we can develop our leadership learning through the experience and knowledge of third-sector organisations across the world. Last year, Acevo ran an international conference on the theme of 'Leadership Across Borders'. The point we were making was that leaders can learn a lot from each other across national and cultural borders.

We shouldn't assume that the Anglo-Saxon leadership model is the only appropriate way to run an organisation. Can we learn from third-sector leaders in Africa or the Mediterranean, for example? We do tend to think that all our examples of good practice or peer learning have to come from our colleagues in our locality, region or England. Why not think more broadly?

So please don't be cowed. Have a word with your chair to suggest that the proper function of a board is to look at strategic and policy development and not to question the chief executive's running of the organisation at the executive level.

Courage, mon frere.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

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