Helping a founder to find liberation
“David Saint is very experienced but also incredibly kind and non-judgmental. I had reached a point where I felt a bit ashamed that I’d set up this project but didn’t feel enthusiastic about running it. David totally got it. He made me realise that a lot of founders feel that way and it was OK to hand it over. Those few times chatting to David were amazing.”
Anna Jones, Founder, Just Farmers
In 2018, journalist, broadcaster and farmer’s daughter Anna Jones set up the CIC Just Farmers to give farmers and growers the confidence to tell their stories with pride through free Media Education workshops, while helping members of the media find independent farmer case studies to talk to. Always in search of funding, Anna applied for the Stephen Lloyd Awards and was shortlisted. Though Just Farmers did not win the funding, Anna was offered some pro bono consultancy from Action Planning’s David Saint.
While funding was the perennial challenge, there was a more profound issue troubling Anna, one that is common to many founders of charitable organisations. “I set up Just Farmers to serve a need, not for me to be a leader of an organisation. By accident I found myself in a role which I felt poorly equipped for. While I had complete confidence, and heaps of passion, about our aims and vision, I felt out of my depth with organisational leadership and management. It did not play to my skills or strengths.”
In short, Anna Jones had become Just Farmers and Just Farmers had become Anna Jones. She wanted to step back but felt “ashamed” to admit it.
Anna saw her consultation with David as an opportunity to share these guilty thoughts in the hope that he could help. As it turned out, he could.
Anna and David had two conversations, the first of which consisted of Anna explaining how she was feeling about her situation, after which David gave her some questions to go away and think about, focusing largely on how her working life was apportioned, ie her own career as a journalist, writer, radio and television producer and public speaker, and her work for Just Farmers. “He basically made me download my very complicated work life onto paper where I could see it clearly.”
Further questions were aimed at getting Anna to set her priorities and work out what she wanted from life. “He asked me one really pertinent question, which was something along the lines of ‘Do you see yourself wanting to run Just Farmers and it becomes your career or do you want to set it up and step back from it?’ It was more cleverly put than that but it was the one question that allowed me to come to a place of clarity. I said, ‘I don’t want to run Just Farmers’. It sounded such a shameful thing to say out loud but he said, ‘Fine. Now, how can we make that happen?’”
In the second conversation David looked at the practicalities involved in enabling Anna to achieve the outcome she really wanted. He analysed the finances and showed Anna that she could afford to take on a Managing Editor to run Just Farmers. “I had no idea that I could do that. He opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. He legitimised and professionalised the ideas and feelings that were in my mind about what to do about Just Farmers.”
As a first step Anna followed David’s advice to hire a very efficient PA on an hourly basis to relieve her of much of the admin burden. The plan was to do this initially to take the pressure off while Anna approached her Project Editor Emily Davies, who was away on maternity leave, about taking on the role of Managing Editor.
“I was terrified that she would say no but it turned out that she was champing at the bit to take on more responsibility. She was so ready for it, so to come back to a more senior position with more responsibility was perfect for her. I wanted to let go of the responsibility, she was hungry for more, and she’s now running Just Farmers. I’ve very much taken a back seat. I’m not the boss any more and I’m fine with that.”
Anna’s new role at Just Farmers involves providing support and guidance from the wings and being a sounding board on new strategic ideas. She continues to run workshops and uses her public speaking career to champion Just Farmers at conferences, industry events and on many agricultural and environmental podcasts. Having recently become a published author with her first book Divide: The relationship crisis between town and country, Anna is getting more opportunities to talk about Just Farmers publicly – and having the focus of a Managing Editor helps get the most out of these appearances.
“Before, when I was doing everything, I was so stressed and spread so thin that I would hurtle between speaking gigs without much thought for what we were trying to achieve. It was just a ‘get it done, don’t let people down’ mentality. Now, with Emily steering the ship, it feels much calmer, considered and we can actually think about our strategy for Just Farmers, and what the project needs.”
The main sense of personal liberation for Anna has come from being able to pursue her own career again, without feeling guilty.
I often say that the best consultants don’t have all the right answers – they have all the right questions. In Anna’s case it was easy to ask questions because the situation was quite puzzling. Actually Anna is quite unusual – most founders want to stick closely to the organisation they ‘birthed’ – occasionally too closely and/or for too long.
In Anna’s case there was a clear dilemma – a passion for the work of the charity but also a sense that she wasn’t the right person to run it, and it was drawing her away from her true vocation of journalism. In her comments in this case study, Anna talks about ‘guilt’. There is absolutely no shame in setting up an organisation and then handing the reins over to someone better placed to see the vision through. That is truly enlightened!