It’s been more than five years since I worked as a CEO of an NGO (true, I am my own boss now, but running an organisation is different). However there are some things that I learned in my time at the helm that have started with me and have been valuable lessons and touch points in my work now. 

© joris484 / iStock

© joris484 / iStock

The solution often stares you in the face

In the first 100 days the pressure on a CEO to come up with a viable, different plan for the business is significant.  People are looking to you to lead. You have to demonstrate why you got the job.  The temptation to reinvent the wheel is strong.  Sometimes though, the best thing you can do is stop, look, listen and absorb what’s going on around you.  Often, getting a business or organisation back to its core (or sticking to its core), is about reminding it and the people working with you why the organisation is there in the first place.  If you strip the organisation back to its first principles, is it the same organisation that you are sitting in today?  What does it spend most of its time doing? Is that what it should be doing or should it be doing something else?  Is the organisation on focus or drifting? Once you know where you are and you know where you need to be, the choices become more obvious, not easier or straightforward, just more obvious.

Ask for help

It is tempting to believe the hype: that you are the new guy at the top and people are looking to you for the answers, so you have to appear strong.  That works for, well no-one.  Knowing when to ask for help is important.  You don’t lead in a vaccuum, you lead other people.  Leading is more about facilitating and collaboration than simply telling people what to do.  So working with your team and with trusted external advisors will help you to bring the organisation along with you on the journey to the long-term objectives that you’re all working towards.

Don’t be distracted by vanity projects

Tinkering about with a pet project whilst ignoring the gaping hole in the business is good for no-one, especially you.  Vanity projects are just that – about you, not the organisation.  Be clear and rigorous in your assessment of each opportunity and idea – how does it push your organisation towards its long-term objective?

Partnerships are more valuable than going it alone

With everyone vying for intellectual property and trying to add value you would be forgiven for thinking that partnerships can’t generate any value.  Yet they can.  Working together with another organisation that has significant overlap in objectives, beneficiaries, supporters or some other factor, can help move your organisation along more quickly, by sharing the load.  Partnerships are often good for your beneficiaries too – if two NGOs work with the same community, working together to work with and for the community is a better use of your beneficiairies’ time too, giving them more time to get on with things rather than stuck in endless focus groups and learning sessions.

Trust your gut

Most importantly, trust your gut.  It can be difficult to do this though when people around you are all saying one thing and you’re thinking something else.  There are two occasions that I remember clearly not being convinced by arguments being put before me, whilst board members were.  They over ruled me and I had to pick up the pieces when things didn’t go according to plan.  Your gut doesn’t often get it wrong.

You don’t have to be a CEO to benefit from these ideas.  Leadership happens at all levels of an organisation and you can often be a great leader without being the person in charge.  

What are some of the things that you’ve learned leading a team, a project, an organisation?  Do you trust your gut?  Do you see the obvious solutions in front of you?

1 Comment

Social Impact Leadership | Robin Brady · July 1, 2015 at 2:30 pm

[…] (and before I received the brief for this event) I also wrote a blog on the five things that I had learned as a CEO.  Reviewing the blog entry in light of tonight’s discussion, the lessons are still relevant […]

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