If you're running a safe ship then why rock the boat?

Valerie Morton offers advice on how to avoid looking for problems when there aren't any

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: My chief executive operates a very traditional and safe ship. How can I get her to share my vision for what we can achieve?

A: I can picture two scenarios here. The first is one in which you take your chief executive on a journey, she sees the light and then basks in the glory of her success. In the second, she physically recoils whenever you enter the room because she is terrified you are going to blast her with yet another bright idea to add stress to her day. You are hoping to achieve the former but you might have to brace yourself for the latter.

Why? Well, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with traditional and safe. Perhaps your charity is doing everything it needs to do and the stakeholders are happy and work well together. The first thing you need to do is decide whether your ideas really are appropriate or if your style is better suited to a charity with a more entrepreneurial culture.

On the basis that you decide to stick it out and you really do feel your ideas will help the charity meet its objectives better, then some simple steps will help. Recognise your chief executive's comfort zone and move her away from it a step at a time. Use her language - "I have had one or two thoughts about how we can provide a better service" is likely to go down better than you bouncing in like Tigger and saying "Hey! I've had a brilliant new idea!"

Offer to do some of the planning that will be needed in case it is a workload problem that's causing her usual reaction. Perhaps you can arrange for her to meet up with another charity that has made big changes recently so she can take comfort from seeing such ideas work in practice. It might be tempting to gather support by getting other staff or trustees enthused with your ideas, but that can easily backfire and come across as if you are ganging up on your chief executive.

Finally, remember that some people become the chief executive of a small organisation because they want to work in a small group, not because they want the challenge of helping a charity to grow. By suggesting too many changes you might be encouraging your chief executive to create an organisation that she does not want to lead. In such a case, it will not be surprising that the reaction you have been getting is not the one you want.

- Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

Send your questions to Valerie.Morton@haymarket.com

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