Leadership: Learning to lead

Lie back and think strategically: that was one of the messages heard by Joanna Elson of the Money Advice Trust during a part-time chief executives training programme run by Acevo and the Cass Business School.

When Joanna Elson left her job as executive director of the British Bankers' Association to become chief executive of the Money Advice Trust in October 2006, she went from supervising six people to managing approximately 150 staff.

Although she wanted some practical training to help her adjust to her new role, Elson didn't have enough time to dedicate herself to a training course such as an MBA. Instead, after hearing about chief executives body Acevo from other charity leaders, she investigated what it had on offer and soon discovered that Acevo's New Chief Executive Programme involved the perfect amount of time commitment - one day a month for five months - and detail for her situation. Here is her diary of the course.

19 OCTOBER 2006

The role of the chief executive

The first day was about what makes the chief executive role different. It involved sharing ideas about what it's like to be a chief executive.

I remember being shown this slide of a jaguar lying back in a tree. The idea was that you shouldn't be running around, frantically jumping from one thing to another. Instead, you should organise things in such a way that you've got your people out there doing all the things you need.

Sometimes you just need to take stock; you need to sit back. We were told that you shouldn't feel guilty about sitting in your office just thinking strategically - thinking about how to move things forward for your organisation.

14 NOVEMBER 2006

Your leadership journey

This was the day we were taken through different academic models of management and leadership - and there are absolutely loads out there.

When you become a chief executive, you're often moving from a management situation to a leadership situation. Understanding the difference is quite important. For me, the crucial difference is how you motivate your people to move in the direction that you want them to.

12 DECEMBER 2006

The chief executive as ambassador

One of the things we did in this session was some role-play. Basically, it gave us a bit of time in which we could practise communication. My colleagues pretended that they were my staff - they listened to me presenting my business plan and then they criticised it.

I found this really helpful. It made me realise that I needed to take a bit more time over things and understand the best way of putting my message across.

16 JANUARY 2007

Managing financial resources

This day took us through charity finance, how it differs from straight business finance and what sort of financial cycle the year follows in charities.

I learned a lot because I didn't have a lot of experience in finance. As a chief executive, I need to make sure that I get up to speed with these skills and understand what my organisation has to do to balance budgets and so on.

14 FEBRUARY 2007

Leading strategic change

This was a really helpful session run by Caroline Copeman, head of voluntary sector support at the Centre for Charity Effectiveness. She's clearly worked with a lot of different organisations to help them with strategy planning, and that's vital to any charity. She gave us lots of different examples of the kinds of tools you can use; you pick the ones that work best for you. I'm using them with my trustees now as we write our next three-year strategy.

After the course

We've asked for an extra day from the course directors, which they agreed to put on for us. The course covers lots of interesting things, but it doesn't include HR issues. For me, and lots of other people on the course, they are really important. After all, I spend most of my budget and most of my time on people issues.

Looking back, one of the most useful things about the course is the peer group it gives you. Everyone who was on the course is meeting up again in June - we're picking a topic to discuss and inviting a speaker. So we're keeping a learning set going.

Although I have a brilliant deputy, there are some things it's not easy to discuss with other people within the organisation. So it's really, really useful to be able to phone my mate from the course and say: "What do you think about such and such?"


Are you interested in participating in an Acevo New Chief Executive Programme? Here are the details of the next course, which is run in association with the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at City University's Cass Business School.

Location: London

Cost: £715

Dates: Commencing autumn 2007: 19 September, 12 October, 7 November, 5 December, 23 January (2008)

Contact: Astrid Kirchner, 0845 345 8497, astrid.kirchner@acevo.org.uk

Website: www.acevo.org.uk/index.cfm/display_page/profdev_new_ceo

Registration closes: 18 August.

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