Be guided by compassion and empathy, former presidential aide tells charity leaders

Pippa Malmgren, who was a financial adviser to George W Bush, tells an Acevo conference that a lack of trust in the sector means charity leaders cannot make decisions based solely on logic

Pippa Malmgren (Picture: Masoud Shah Photography)
Pippa Malmgren (Picture: Masoud Shah Photography)

Charity leaders should try to make more decisions based on compassion and empathy if they want to increase public trust, a former US presidential adviser has said.

Speaking at an Acevo conference for charity leaders this morning, Pippa Malmgren, former financial adviser to President George W Bush and now an adviser to the British government, said there had been a breakdown in public trust and confidence in leadership in recent years.

She said that, in order to tackle that lack of trust, leaders should move on from the binary, logic-based thought processes of the 20th century and embrace an approach that took in the bigger picture.

She likened the decision-making process to a piano keyboard, with the financial bottom line at one end and compassion and empathy at the other.

Compassion and empathy "are the things that cause people to have faith and confidence and trust, whether it’s in a company brand, a nation or a charitable organisation", she said.

Malmgren said a compassionate approach "often preserves and builds the value of the enterprise much better than the bottom-line approach".

She said: "There will be times when profit and loss will be the right notes to hit, and times when compassion and empathy will be the right notes to hit.

"Good leaders will be able go up and down that keyboard and choose the right thing at the right moment."

Malmgren also urged leaders to embody the values their organisation stood for.

She said that one of the reasons trust had broke down in leaders was that people felt  what they said and what they did were different, and they were "not representing the values the public would want to have trust in".

"We’ve certainly seen that in some of the recent scandals in the charitable sector there’s a disconnect between what you do and what you seemingly stand for," she said.

"You can’t do values – you can only be values. If you’re a leader I bet you have a ‘to-do’ list, but I bet you don’t have a ‘to-be’ list."

She also urged leaders to look at the wider picture of the financial position and the public mood, rather than get stuck looking through an "ever-finer microscope".

She said: "If you are looking deeper into the microscope and getting ever narrower into the details then, guess what, nobody wants to follow you.

"Instead we need to look across, see the stars, understand what’s coming on the landscape and show other people where we are going."

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