David Welch: “Empathetic leadership allows you to push boundaries"

Winner of the Charity Times 2021 Leader of the Year Award, David Welch, CEO of Air Ambulance Charity Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS) talks about what makes a good leader in the charity sector


Within the charity sector, leadership is born from a desire to make a positive difference to the lives of others. Throughout my life, I have witnessed the most inspiring leaders overcome some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable. Through working for Concern after genocide in Rwanda, during civil war in Angola, and with people facing abject poverty in Bangladesh, I encountered leaders who demonstrated true resilience, compassion and an inspirational determination to overcome and create a better future for their communities. These leaders applied a range of skills and approaches to navigate their way through the complex landscape of inspiring, supporting and ultimately caring for the people they lead. What they have in common is genuine empathy and a desire to do their absolute best by those they lead and serve.

The previous 12-18 months have brought challenge for us all on an unprecedented level and empathy has been intrinsic to effective leadership. Being able to understand and value the needs of others provides insight that enables leaders to truly support and inspire their teams. Empathy ensures you remain authentic and demonstrate humility and is instrumental in generating trust and confidence among those you engage with – staff, volunteers, trustees, stakeholders, partners, donors and most importantly, beneficiaries. As a charity leader, I feel a huge responsibility to be a role model for our sector, to be accountable and gain the respect of others, to encourage collaborative and innovative thinking and to advocate for a new form of progressive philanthropy which encourages everyone to play a part in creating a better future.

Empathy provides us with the opportunity to continue evolving, learning and improving. It is only by fully considering others that you open yourself to be challenged, to create a culture where innovation and creativity is encouraged and celebrated and where you empower and create opportunities for your team to spark ideas and new solutions within an inclusive, safe environment. Fundamentally, demonstrating empathetic leadership allows you to be bold and brave in your approach, to take risks by trusting your intuition and the team around you to push boundaries and achieve great things.

Most importantly of all, empathy means showing care and compassion for the wellbeing of those around you. Caring for the safety and wellbeing of my team has always been my priority. I take this responsibility incredibly seriously as I believe all leaders should.
Having been privileged to lead various charities, I continue to be inspired by the incredible teams I have led, to celebrate in their achievements and empower them to become leaders in their own right. Surely the real power in leadership is ensuring the organisation and team you lead grow stronger and more resilient, continuously improving the positive impact they make on the beneficiaries they serve. This is how we will evolve and strengthen the power of the charity sector, inspiring others to join us on this journey.\

I feel incredibly humbled to have won the Charity Times Charity Leader of the Year Award, an accolade reflective of Team KSS - the world-leading organisation I am proud to lead who share in the celebration of this award. What we have overcome together by being driven by our purpose, led by our values, and putting people at the heart of all we do inspires me every day to lead us through challenging times to achieve even more for our patients and communities.

I thank each individual who has supported me on this journey and look forward to what we can achieve together to create and inspire empathetic leaders of the future who will continue to drive our sector forward.

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