Caron Bradshaw: Is bringing love into leadership the next step for charities post-Brexit?

Written by Caron Bradshaw

Years ago, I read a book called The levity effect - why it pays to lighten up by Adrian Gostick, Scott Christopher.

At last year’s CFG conference we heard ‘Happy Henry’ (aka Henry Stewart) identify how businesses that create happy work environments outperform their competitors significantly. And countless authors, commentators and academics are highlighting the need for us to embrace our humanity as leaders; to be connected, compassionate and collaborative.

I want to push that envelope a little further and ask: is bringing love into leadership an essential next step for all progressive charities – particularly in the aftermath of Brexit?

We cannot have helped but read about the negative stories of charity workplaces, where bullying or sexual abuse go unaddressed. We also know from a recent Unite report that 80 per cent of employees say they have experienced workplace stress.

The opposite of light and fun is almost certainly harm – to the brand, to people to beneficiaries – but what about love? Are we ready to explore how loving workplaces can increase productivity, happiness, and well-being? And are we willing to accept that these qualities may actually increase sustainability and lead to growth (in impact and financially)?

This is a topic I have been wrestling with for some time. But it isn’t a subject with which I have been entirely comfortable – the concept of love and professionalism being awkward bedfellows.

I’ve also encountered attempts to water down what I mean – to only be kindness and compassion – and I’ve faced opposition on the grounds that love is too fluffy and nice. So imagine my delight when our final speaker of the day at the CFG annual conference took his speech firmly into the arena of love.

We like to have something a little different every year to finish off our flagship date. For the last few years we have tried to make the closing plenary something a bit more challenging and a little less predictably ‘finance’.

This year, we were privileged to be joined by the inspiring Duncan Dunlop, CEO of the charity Who Cares? Scotland, and by his trainee chartered accountant; an unassuming but clearly brilliant young man called Hamilton Gitua.

We briefed Duncan to challenge our assumptions in his session entitled; ‘The why, not the what, in a post Brexit world’. He did that and more! But he also gave me a great case study on how focussing on purpose and not being afraid to bring love into leadership can directly have a positive impact on your bottom line.

If you are not familiar with the work of Who Care? Scotland, look them up. They are an award-winning charity that can claim to have literally changed Scottish policy. At the SNP conference, Nicola Sturgeon announced a root and branch review of the care system in Scotland, driven by those with experience of care.

In addition, Duncan relayed that their endeavours had secured a commitment to include the right to be loved in policies implemented for Scotland’s most vulnerable people. Yes, the word ‘love’ is in the Scottish Strategic plan and therefore, part of public policy!

Repeatedly, Duncan asked ‘why do you do what you do?’ As a professional, whether you are an accountant, a lawyer or a HR professional. In Who cares? Scotland’s case it was simple. They asked what would happen if they listened to and loved their beneficiaries. This simple strategy, to introduce a system that loves, because ‘a system which loves, catches you when you fall’, led to a trebling in income.

"We have never had a growth strategy, it’s always just been about why we are doing what we’re doing"’ Duncan told us.

In a post-Brexit world, we must transfer power to those we serve, to let their voices be heard. And I would add that whilst you might need more than love alone, a big dollop of it into our workplaces certainly cannot hurt.

Caron Bradshaw is the chief executive of Charity Finance Group.

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