Joy Gascoigne

Mar 24, 2023, 8:30 AM

Leading for the long haul – valuable lessons learned in life

By Joy Gascoigne

Leadership expert John C Maxwell defines leadership as “influence, nothing more, nothing less”, but influencers are also influenced. For leaders of small charities in the post-pandemic world, there are new challenges to contend with alongside the age old problems.

We are seeing that many are not prepared to resume business as usual and leadership attrition is accelerating. McKinsey leadership adviser Aaron De Smet noted in a recent report that “many people are leaving the job they’re in without another job in hand; they are just leaving. They’re burned out, and they’re looking for inspiration, social connection, belonging.”

So how can small charity leaders retain resilience and lead for the long haul?

Put your own oxygen mask on first
Federal Aviation Administration research shows that supplemental oxygen has been needed around 2,800 times over a 40 year period on US airlines. That is approximately 10 events per one billion flight hours. Experience in the charity sector suggests that leaders need the metaphorical oxygen mask, with space to breath, think and thrive, a little more often.

In driving your charity forward with a passion for the cause, it’s all too easy to overlook your own health and wellbeing. Full diaries which need constant rescheduling, flexible working which may blur boundaries, changes in legislation, expectation and perception all combine to produce a treadmill effect. It all needs careful prioritisation.

A wise man once said, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept” (Song of Songs 1:6 KJV). Establishing priorities and balance around achievement, enjoyment and connection, and setting and maintaining boundaries will go a long way to ensuring that your oxygen mask is firmly in place.

Create the right atmosphere
It was a holiday on a Greek island. For several days my evening stroll along the harbour had taken me past bobbing boats and bustling restaurants, set against glorious sunsets. Every evening two restaurants caught my attention, so close together that only a low timber fence separated them. Every evening one was full, with couples, families, friends all talking, laughing, eating and enjoying themselves. Every evening the other one was empty, tables set, menus in place, but totally empty, except for the waiter standing almost as a statue by the kitchen door.

By the end of the week I couldn’t hold back, so I stepped inside the busy restaurant and approached the head waiter. “May I ask, why is your restaurant full but the next one is empty?” His answer was as simple as it was profound. “Look at him!” he said, pointing to the waiter, who was still standing like a statue in the empty restaurant, “he’s like the funeral director. People come to my restaurant to be happy, to feel welcome, to eat and to enjoy.”

The lesson was clear: atmospheres affect people and people affect atmospheres.  Attitudes and actions are the building blocks of atmosphere and no amount of policy, programme or premises, though all having importance, can in themselves create the right atmosphere.

Maintain an arial view
​​​​​​​My friend is keen on computer games, one of which, he informs me, creates the experience of driving a car. The dashboard boasts five buttons: button one provides the front view, button two the rear view, button three the right-hand view, button four the left-hand view. However, there is a fifth button. One simple click of button five enables the driver to zoom upwards to the arial view, giving perspective and context for the whole journey.

Amid the busyness of aims, objectives, targets, budgets, human resources, volunteer management, conflict resolution and all the other things, an arial perspective allows us to take an alternative, larger view, to consider others and look at the longer term. Whether it’s an awayday, a review, the fresh input of a consultant working alongside, or even just a holiday, button five is essential in maintaining momentum and resilience.

When built into the annual programme, an arial view opportunity adds new rhythm and allows change to develop into progress, whereby everyone benefits from the bigger picture.

So in order to avoid burn-out as you get to grips with the demands of leading your small charity onwards, find inspiration, connection and belonging, reach for your mask, press button five and don’t forget the restaurant.


Joy Gascoigne - Photo.JPG

I’m delighted to engage with charities of all kinds in their vital work for public benefit.

My work is around supporting organisations and individuals in developing strategy and operations, governance, change management, promotion, coaching, mentoring and team building.

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