The purposeful leader: how I became the chair of a small charity

Posted 19 Jun 2019 | Blog | HR & Leadership

I’ve spent my career focused on how to build organisations that engage employees so they give their best. I’ve experienced economic booms and busts, a technological revolution in the way we live and work, and the increased globalisation of business. The consistent theme throughout my 35 year career, is that people give their best when they truly believe in their organisation’s mission. This is where I believe Pilotlight can play a critical part. Its programmes expose employees to charities and social enterprises where engagement with a purpose and delivering a great service with limited resources is the lifeblood of its success. Being a Pilotlighter has taught me a lot, and I wouldn’t be embarking on the next chapter of my career without it.

Learning to listen the right way

I joined Pilotlight in 2009. With an eye on a future career as an effective NED I wanted to build my skills, and a trusted colleague recommended Pilotlight. I knew nothing of the charity sector, but it was emphasised to me that no prior knowledge was necessary.

Learning to ask the right questions and to listen without jumping to conclusions are valuable skills for any leader, and were things I grappled with, like many Pilotlighters, from the beginning. Now, having been a Pilotlighter for ten years, I hope I’ve learnt how to avoid rushing to provide ‘helpful’ advice that might actually be damaging, but I’ve been perfecting the art of listening ever since that first project.

Purpose changes everything

I’ve been particularly impressed by the dedication and capability of charity leaders, trustees and staff in the 15 charities I’ve supported through Pilotlight. To see people so engaged in the mission of their organisation that they go the extra mile because they know they’re having a positive, tangible impact on someone else is both moving and humbling.

A discussion happening in the HR space at the moment is how you help employees find their purpose, and, in doing so, help them become happier and more motivated. Well, experiencing how charities engage staff and volunteers to support their end users with limited resources goes a long way towards achieving this. It’s brought me back down to earth and out of my business bubble time and again.

My next career step

I’m now planning the next chapter of my career, hopefully as a NED and independent consultant, and an opportunity has arisen to develop greater board level skills by becoming the chair of trustees of a small charity. I met Sara Bennett, the CEO of Balloons, a child bereavement charity in Exeter, through Pilotlight. The work of the charity and the team impressed me greatly, and the subject area was also close to my heart having lost a parent at a young age. When the current chair of trustees indicated that he was stepping down I successfully applied for the role and will take it up from summer 2019. More than 1 in every 3 Pilotlighters on the Pilotlight Programme become trustees after being a member for 3 or more years, so my move may not be that surprising to my fellow Pilotlighters. For me it feels like the end of one journey and I'm excited for this next challenge which puts purpose at the centre of the agenda.

The lessons you learn are as valuable as any wisdom you share

Working with charities has taught me so much more than I expected. Being a Pilotlighter continues to be both a source of learning but also life enhancement. I firmly believe that these experiences, which go beyond your personal day-to-day, taking you out of your work context and enabling you to build new skills, will also help develop a sense of what ‘doing more with less’ really means. It’s opened my eyes to how effective and committed charity employees are and what lessons they can teach those of us in business.