Leadership and Being Human

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All are worried about their organisations, their staff and their beneficiaries, but let’s not be afraid to be human and acknowledge that we are juggling other concerns too.

Pat Armstrong


Chief Executive of ACOSVO.

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I’ve already seen some great blogs from sector leaders, and don’t want to duplicate, but found a bit of a gap in looking not only at how we, the leaders, are facing huge challenges for our organisations, our teams and for the people we are there to serve – but also, aligning all of that with our personal lives and the challenges we face to our own resilience and well-being.

We’ve heard about what sort of leadership we need in current times and some great tips about what to do in crisis situations… but what about when it weighs heavy for other reasons too?

All I can give is a personal view on the thoughts and feelings I’m juggling in the hope that it will resonate with others, and we can each feel less alone by knowing we are not the only ones feeling like this.

Less than a month ago I was at my younger sister’s funeral and reeling from the feelings of loss that came from this. This was compounded further by having gone through a similar “journey” with the cancer treatment and care of my late husband only a few years earlier, in the same hospital and hospice no less.  I promised my Board I would take some time out for bereavement leave and look after myself going forward – but only a week later the world changed, and we had to shift operations and focus in a way none of us expected.

I now worry about my 84-year-old mother. I also worry about my daughter who works with the NHS on lung function testing, and although only being in the job around 6 months and with pretty bad asthma, has now been taught to use a respirator and is gearing up for the evitable strain on the NHS (at least she is still on at me continually reminding me to wash my hands).

I know from speaking to other leaders through the ACOSVO network that the feeling of loneliness in the role can feel even more enhanced when we need to default to “game face” and pretend all of that isn’t in our minds. We of course will put every ounce of energy into keeping our organisations alive and our beneficiaries supported, but we shouldn’t have to pretend we aren’t human and that we don’t have all these other thoughts racing through our heads at the same time.  We all have families we are thinking about, whether it’s the kids at home, families at a distance, or elderly relatives needing support (my mum just did her first facetime – she was so chuffed).

It’s been a week of huge challenges, we’ve seen leaders rising to the occasion and many acts of kindness and support to keep our spirits high. All are worried about their organisations, their staff and their beneficiaries, but let’s not be afraid to be human and acknowledge that we are juggling other concerns too.

Let’s continue to share, be there for each other, and not always feel the need to show a brave face, pretend we are confident in what we are doing, and that it won’t be a struggle at times. We are all leaders, but we are more than our role and to ensure our wellbeing and resilience we need to recognise this and find support that encompasses a more holistic understanding.

On a final note, one of my Board members recently said: “When times are good we always think they will never end and then when times are bad we always think it will never end, its human nature, but the facts & history prove every time that they do finish and then we all go again”. It reminded me of a favourite quote (from The Best Exotic Marigold hotel movie - sorry, not an academic or literary tome!): “It will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright it’s not the end”.

This article was originally published on the ACOSVO blog in April 2020.

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