The best leaders make themselves redundant

Posted on July 20, 2016

Caroline Mason CBE is Chief Executive at the Esmée Fairbarin Foundation. The Foundation funds our gender equality Fellowship on our 2017 Fellowship programme. 

At Esmée we talk a lot about the importance of key people. As one of the largest independent funders in the UK, we place our trust and our money in the hands of some of the most brilliant, entrepreneurial and effective leaders in the social sector. 

We have also supported organisations where the actions, and sudden departures, of leaders have failed organisations and their beneficiaries. So you might want to know from me, what do I think an effective leader looks like?

I've seen great leaders who have spotted something they want to change, and built up organisations from scratch to make that change happen for the most disadvantaged people in our society. I've met brilliant people who have moved over from the private or public sector, determined to use what they’ve learned there to help the charitable sector avoid the same mistakes. I've worked with excellent people with a long history of working for non-profits, who have worked their way up and have a huge knowledge of what works in our sectors. And I've met inspirational leaders who have themselves experienced hardship or prejudice, and set out to change the lives of people like them.

All these leaders can be effective - they can make a difference for their beneficiaries, inspire their staff and impress trustees. But they can also make the same mistake - which is to hold too much of the power and influence, too much of what makes their organisation great, within themselves.

Leadership is not about complementing your own strengths and weaknesses, it's about building a team who can shape, deliver, and own a shared vision together. In this sector it is often tackling an issues that affect many people. If you left your organisation tomorrow, would it be able to excel and deliver without you?


The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is a leading independent grant-making foundation in the UK who fund our gender equality Fellowship on our Fellowship programme. Rebecca Gill  and Polly Trenow are our 2016 gender Fellows. Apply now to our 2017 Fellowship programme - the deadline is midday on Monday 5 September 2016.

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The basis of my various roles, since working in community development and adult education many moons ago, has been that if I have done my job well then you don't need me to do that job any more. Nothing is more satisfying than watching a new group or organisation outgrow you and gratefully say goodbye!Holding on for too long doesn't benefit anyone involved, apart from massaging your own ego.

> Posted by Andy Taylor on 4 Aug 2016 at 10:28

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