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Tips on becoming a charity leader this #UKCharityWeek

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James Barrett, Consultant & Joint Programme Lead for Leadership Development
– Cass CCE.

As #UKCharityWeek raises awareness of charities many people will be inspired to become involved with a charity they feel strongly about. For those already working in the non-profit sector #UKCharityWeek can reaffirm the value of the work they’re doing and perhaps highlight an ambition to advance up through the organisation.

To rise up the ranks of a charity and become the Chief Executive it’s imperative not to underestimate the preparation and mind-set required to make the jump.

At Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness (Cass CCE) we have run a programme for new Chief Executives for over twelve years, and for the past five years we have also delivered a separate programme – Aspiring Chief Executives – for senior leaders who want to become Chief Executives.

We find that as the Aspiring CE Programme gets underway participants start to understand the full extent of what it is to be a CE. They discover the CE needs to be able to connect an entire organisation, work closely with the Chair, align the governance and executive parts of the charity and shape the overall strategic agenda.

Charity Leaders also need to be able to blend the competing demands of different departments, liaise with a host of external stakeholders, and support the organisation to interpret and navigate the external environment.

For those considering taking the next step up to becoming a CE here are our top tips:

  1. Think about how you want to make a difference in the world and what social issues most matter to you. Which organisations have missions that most inspire you now – and will continue to inspire you in the future?
  2. How you ever had a great boss? The best way to learn about becoming an effective leader is to experience being phenomenally well led by someone who really gets you. If you have never experienced great leadership you might want to find yourself a remarkable boss before you set out to become one yourself.
  3. Leaders achieve results through others, so start by getting to know yourself and the impact you have on other people. Observe different personalities, different departments, and different professions. Consider what each of them most values and how you would inspire them to collaborate with you.
  4. Network and talk to as many CEs as possible. Ask to shadow a respected CE to experience the role up close. Do it purposefully with a clear set of questions to focus your learning, but be open to the unexpected too.
  5. Mentor others. Be generous with your time – you can learn a great deal from others and the questions they ask.
  6. Volunteer for a trustee position, or stretch yourself further by taking on a portfolio role like chair or treasurer. You will gain insight into what trustees most need in a CE.
  7. Do your homework before you apply for a role. Be clear about how exactly you meet the person spec, and practice your interview skills.
  8. Talk to recruitment consultants to understand how they screen and select candidates: the judgements they make; the selection criteria they use and evidence they seek; the lengths they go to research your online presence.
  9. Approach interviews with your eyes wide open and ask questions to understand the context in which you’ll be working. Which organisation will make the most of your talents? Will they give you the space to influence and to be effective? Will your chair support you, or abandon you to sink or swim?
  10. Don’t be put off if you don’t get the first job you apply for. Some of the top CEs were turned down by multiple organisations before they found one where they fitted best. In the meantime, seek feedback from interview panels, and be sure to learn from what they tell you. 

The next leadership programme for Aspiring Chief Executives at Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness (Cass CCE) starts on 10th May 2018 and is designed specifically for senior leaders in the charity and non-profit sectors considering becoming chief executives.