Peter Cardy: Beware the charisma of your founder

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. With little warning our founding trustee has left us. We feel abandoned and have lost the drive, imagination and torrent of ideas he produced. Some of us feel like giving up too. Any advice?

A. An inspiring leader can do great things, but from what you tell me yours also generated more ideas than could be delivered, didn't think through the human and financial requirements of complex projects and took risks with governance. Time to regroup and remind yourselves what you believe in. Look at priorities and what you can deliver within resources. Create more formal leadership roles, with job descriptions and reasonable expectations of the team. Do less and do it more thoroughly. In future, beware charisma.

Q. We are a small, grant-giving charity that funds research. Since I joined the board we have had one or two applications at each annual meeting, always from the same few academics, and always granted with little questioning. It doesn't feel quite right to me. What do you think?

A. "Captive" charities are not uncommon, but that doesn't make them right. Some disease-specific charities also behave like captives, always funding the same team or individual. Charities that fund inferior research might as well throw their money down the drain. Is the availability of grants broadcast or must you have inside knowledge? Is the application process transparent? Are the applications as rigorous as if they were going to an outside funder, like a research funding council? Are the applications peer-reviewed?

Q. My director of finance recently announced he was leaving and in a bad-tempered rant blamed my management style. I thought we had a good relationship. He phoned the chair and deputy chair to complain about me bullying and harassing him. They reacted by meeting each member of the senior team - except me - to ask them about my style. What do I do?

A. Bad behaviour all round, then. The FD should have raised his concerns long before he got to the point of resigning and should have used formal procedures. The trustees have stepped outside their proper role by intervening in management arrangements that they have, presumably, endorsed. Move quickly to fill the vacancy and let the trustees know that you're in command of the situation. If they have doubts about you, they must tell you directly and give you a chance to respond.

Q. My board is getting anxious about its failure to attract nominations for election from anyone other than white, middle-class, older men. They have asked me to come up with a plan. Where do I start?

A. Don't rely on existing methods: they will be invisible to anyone outside that group. Recruit through every channel, be clear about the qualities you're looking for, but most of all start actively talent-spotting and suggest to people with the right profile they might like to apply.

If you have a workplace dilemma for Peter Cardy, contact him at

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