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Purposeful leadership: Kresse Wesling Interview

Posted on June 6, 2018
Posted by Iulia Schiopu
Staff

'A real leader adapts and continues being the best at solving the problems they have taken responsibility for.’ 

Kresse Wesling is the co-founder of Elvis & Kresse, a sustainable luxury company that provides lifestyle accessories made from decommissioned fire hoses and other rescued raw materials.

In 2005, after discovering that London’s decommissioned fire hoses were headed to landfill, Kresse and her partner, Elvis, designed a highly innovative solution for this waste issue. They set up a social enterprise that reclaims the damaged fire hoses, transforms them into beautiful, lasting, and ethical luxury products, and gives 50% of its profits to charities associated with this environmental cause. 

Leading an organisation with a social purpose requires a strong vision, dedication, and a very clear objective. But equally important are ‘genuine business acumen’ and the ability to adapt, which Kresse deems essential for successfully guiding your organisation towards a positive impact. We had the pleasure of interviewing the environmental entrepreneur to learn more about her approach to purposeful, social leadership.

What would you say are the challenges of leading an ethical business?  

Running any business is difficult - getting customers, traction…all of these things are difficult. But doing it for social and environmental purposes makes your decision-making process slightly different. One decision lens that we apply is - does this make financial sense? Which is standard to any business. But on top of that, and probably much more fundamental to our business, Elvis and I always say: ‘Does this make the world better for other people’s grandchildren?’. If the answer to that is yes, then we can do it. And if the answer to that is no, then that’s a red line and we don’t take that step.

How do you implement these values in your organisation’s culture?

Everybody who’s here understands what the values of the business are because they are all actively engaged with reclaiming materials and they are aware of the donations we make. From a leadership perspective – it’s all based on action. This isn’t vocabulary for us, these are the actions that we take. It would be really difficult for people not to get that because they’re immersed in this every day. This is what they help us to deliver.

So, this vision is as much part of their purpose as it is of yours?

If they didn’t share this purpose, they wouldn’t stay around. But also, there’s a lot of people who we’ve managed to convert, who wouldn’t have described themselves as environmentalists and now they come in on a Monday morning and show us the latest YouTube video of birds eating plastic. I think once you open people’s minds to the size and scale of the issue and the challenges that we face, this is not a tap you can turn off. Once they’re awake, they can’t go back to sleep.

But how do you go about that, how do you manage to open people’s minds?

All of our raw materials arrive with their own history, their own narrative. They are tangible, physical proof that the current linear system has failed. Being a part of the solution, transforming these materials each and every day is a very mind opening experience.

What influences have shaped and informed your leadership?

The state of the environment informs my leadership a lot. The bird with its belly full of plastic shapes it a lot. Climate change shapes it a lot. And being quite comfortable with the fact that we want to take our very human response to these things and put it into our work is what shapes it.

I had an amazing grandmother and I think about the way she dealt with so many challenges in her life, and how she dealt with everything with grace, humility, and hard work and always for the benefit of everyone around her. We think about everyone around us, we think of people’s grandchildren, and we think of all the debts that we can’t possibly repay.  

If you were to name three key elements of successful and purposeful leadership, what would those be?

You have to have a very clear objective - you have to know your problem better than anyone else. You have to really understand the problem that you want to solve. Because if you don’t understand it, you’re going to waste a lot of time chasing the wrong solutions.

The second aspect that’s always been really important for us is combining these values with genuine business acumen. I have seen so many people with fantastic purpose, but they fail to keep a business open, and that’s really a shame, because they have great ideas, but they don’t know how to balance the books or understand cash flows, or do any of these things. And you need to know how to do such things to stay open. If you can’t stay open, you can’t deliver your objectives and your impact, so this is quite important. And even if you’re running a charity, you still need to understand…ok, how do I get people in, how do I do the right recruitment, how do I maximise impact. You still have to be organised like a business person.

The third thing would have to be knowing how to take advantage of whatever luck you get whenever you get it because there’s no way you can achieve any of these things without a healthy dose of luck and being able to recognise it.

What advice do you have for leaders with a social purpose?

You have to be able to adapt the way you understand your problem – things change, the market changes, so maybe the nature of the problem itself has itself changed. You have to stay really, really engaged with the fundamentals of why you’re doing it. To be a leader…there’s longevity implied there. So, the first two pieces of advice are great for getting things going and getting everything off the ground, but really, a real leader adapts and continues to be the best at solving the problems they have taken responsibility for. And at some point, if the best way to solve your problem is to appoint an external CEO to replace yourself, that still shows real leadership.

Business leaders are waking up to the power of purpose for their companies. A clear purpose can drive employee satisfaction and attract customers. It can help founders to build a business that reflects their values and goals. Purposely is a free government-backed digital tool designed to help companies simply embed purpose. Learn more about this impactful tool here.

Read the full blog 

Tags: Environment; Impact; Leadership; Social change; Social enterprise; Social justice.

3 of our Forces in Mind Trust Fellows share their insights

Posted on May 16, 2018
Posted by Guest Blogger

Every leadership development journey is different... here's what 3 of our 2017 Fellows have to say about theirs.

The motivations, challenges, and rewards that occur when participating in a leadership development course can vary greatly. We caught up with some of our Forces in Mind Trust Fellows to find out what their journey revealed. Here are some of their thoughts on their Clore Social Fellowship learning experience. 

Vikki Muir is the Executive Officer in the Grants and Welfare Team at ABF The Soldiers’ Charity.

"Looking back to the initial application stage for the Clore Social Leadership Fellowship, if I could say anything to myself when I was wondering whether to apply, questioning if I would be the right fit after looking at previous Fellows and asking myself what I could bring to the table, it would be a resounding Do It. Without a doubt, my Clore Social year has been one of the most enlightening, rewarding and challenging that I have ever experienced, and I would not be the person that I now am without it.

It is rare that we can take time out from our everyday work lives with all the pressures and expectations that they bring, to be able to reflect on ourselves, our leadership journey and truly spend time to learn from others. This year, I have taken every opportunity to visit organisations outside of my sector, to learn from them, develop relationships and share knowledge. It has been truly inspirational. Clore Social has given me the opportunity to become involved in often unfamiliar ways of learning, develop a wide-reaching peer network and be part of an Action Learning Set, which was a new, and often challenging experience for me. I may have approached some aspects of the programme with initial hesitation or doubts, but I can honestly say that there has not been one element of the last year that I haven’t benefitted from, even if I may not have realised it at the time."

Louise Simpson is the Policy and Research Director for the Army Families Federation (AFF), a charity representing the interests of British Army families.

"What a journey it has been – so many lessons learnt, so many connections made and an unlocking of a thirst to know much, much more.

The combination of group training, personal training budgets, group challenges and secondments meant that every aspect of myself and why I do what I do was challenged this year. Everything I have learnt is already influencing how my team works and how we get the best out of each other.

What every one of the people working or volunteering in our sector does is change lives – whether that is by working hard to improve access to the right service, finding new medical interventions, building resilience or levelling playing fields. That very fact means the third sector shouldn't rely on passion and integrity alone and basic training - that to be truly effective we need to give our staff the very best training so they can be more effective at changing people's lives.

That realisation is the main outcome of this year for me and a resolution that somehow, I will find a way for our staff to have access to networks and training so they too can unlock their potential so that we all can be more effective in what we do – changing people's lives for the better!"

Liz George is Director of Development at The Royal College of Psychiatrists, and was formerly Head of Fundraising at The Poppy Factory, the employability charity for wounded, injured and sick veterans.

"I had expected to learn about the theory of leadership, of models and behaviours and of the particular skills and experiences which 'great' leaders have in common. I quickly learnt that I could re-examine the theory of 'great' or heroic leadership more thoroughly in the context of the social sector. Whilst I had previously been concerned with externally focused models of leadership, I had not been thinking about how such models might apply to my own circumstances, my style and how these could contribute to my own organisation.

The theme of the Clore Social year for me therefore, became much more personal and reflective than I had anticipated. As a group of Fellows, we were encouraged to look within ourselves to determine the types of leader we wanted to be and to find our voices within that context. The Clore Social framework is to 'Know yourself, Be yourself and Look after yourself'; knowing myself was a logical place to start. It was illuminating to explore my own 360° review after feedback from my team, peers, managers and key stakeholders. There is nothing quite like hearing how others see you, to give yourself a reality check.

Above all, the most valuable lesson I learnt was of the importance of authenticity in leadership. And that is why the Clore Social competency of 'Being Yourself' was so meaningful for me. Authenticity as a leader can inspire trust and as a result of this year, I now know that for me, trust is paramount. I want to inspire trust in those I lead, I aspire to trust my own ability as a leader and I need to trust those that lead me. The Clore Social Fellowship has enabled me to be clear about what drives me, to articulate the impact that I would like to have on those around me and to define my own values. So that feels like a good place to start a leadership journey."

Read the full blog 

Tags: Charity; Clore Social Leadership; Leadership; Leadership development training; Military; Third sector.

Why Care?

Posted on February 5, 2018
Posted by Stuart Dexter
Fellowship: 2017

It may sound counterintuitive to criticise a word like ‘care’ as it is difficult to envisage any negative connotations.  Many, many charities and social sector organisations are involved in the provision of ‘care’ and I have no doubt that the staff of those organisation genuinely want the best for the people with whom they work.  But I would question whether it is enough for effective social leaders to want to offer care to people, and if instead we should be striving to ensure that those people no longer need to be cared for by an organisation.

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Tags: Care; Charity; Clore Social Fellows; Clore Social Leadership; Clore Social Leadership Programme; Leadership; Leadership development training; Service users; Third sector.

Project Xroads: Bridging the Generation Gap across Businesses

Posted on January 29, 2018
Posted by Jane Scobie
Fellowship: 2017

In August 2017 as part of my Clore Social fellowship, I embarked on a four-month sprint with a group of professionals working outside of their day jobs at Marks & Spencer and Unilever to prototype Project Xroads, an intergenerational support network and skills-sharing programme.

Building leaders

The programme was supported by Collectively, who bring together businesses, innovators, activists, facilitators and change makers to explore issues of inequality, and create action plans to address them. As a social sector leader, I wanted to work in the business sector to extend my leadership experience. There was a huge amount of energy and talent in the team - together we grew as leaders as we worked out how change could be achieved.

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Tags: Charity; Clore Social Fellows; Clore Social Leadership; Clore Social Leadership Programme; Collaboration; Diversity; Older populations; Partnerships; Third sector; Volunteering.

“So who runs this show?” Shared leadership and good governance

Posted on December 12, 2017
Posted by Guest Blogger

Lynne Berry, OBE, is Chair of Breast Cancer Now and becomes Chair of Sustrans in January 2018. She is Vice Chair of Cumberland Lodge, a trustee of UnLtd and was until recently deputy chair of the Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways) and a trustee of Pro Bono Economics.  She is a visiting Professor at Cass Business School, City, University of London.  

Who would have thought a musical about charity governance would pack in the crowds at London’s Donmar theatre? The play about Committee Proceedings in Parliament concerning Kids Company did. I even spotted the board of the Association of Chairs there, on their summer outing. Governance is a hot topic.

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Tags: Board of Trustees; Chairs and CEOs; Charity; Chief Executives; Clore Social Associates; Leadership; Third sector.

Leadership is for everyone

Posted on December 12, 2017
Posted by Shaks Ghosh
Staff

2017 was a groundbreaking year for us.

In June we were awarded a grant of almost half a million from the Big Lottery Fund to be a facilitator for leadership in the sector. We diversified our offer, launching a new series of leadership programmes for 2018 for leaders of all levels. We ran successful events with our partners the House of St Barnabas, expanded our digital footprint with new online-only programmes and offered free online resources for new managers and trustees. And the year is not yet over! This week we announce exciting news about our new HEY100 leadership programme for leaders in Hull and East Yorkshire.

Looking ahead to the New Year, I have no doubt that 2018 will engender an even bigger growth spurt as we strive ahead with our mission to transform social sector leadership by developing skilled and ethical leaders. These are leaders who can meet present-day challenges head-on, who have the foresight to predict future trends along with the agility to maximise opportunities.

Read the full blog 

Tags: Chairs and CEOs; Charity; Chief Executives; Clore Social Leadership; Clore Social Leadership Programme; Collaboration; Innovation; Leadership; Leadership development training; Social change; Third sector; Values.

As a leader, are you 'very good' or 'horrid'?

Posted on October 24, 2017
Posted by Louise Drake
Staff

As a child with very curly hair I grew up having the following poem sung to me,

‘There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead,
When she was good she was very good indeed,
And when she was bad she was horrid’.

Like most children I am sure I was both ‘very good indeed’ and ‘horrid’. The final two lines of this poem may seem justified when referring to children who are figuring out their place in the world, but unfortunately they also sum up the experience of leadership for a lot of people. I am sure you can think of leaders you have come across who were ‘very good’ and those who were ‘horrid’.

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Tags: Charity; Chief Executives; Clore Social Leadership; Leadership; Leadership development training; Third sector.

How can leaders and managers prevent the collapse of charities?

Posted on October 23, 2017
Posted by Guest Blogger

Don Macdonald, a trainer, trustee and former charity CEO, is writing a series of New to Management blogs for us. His new book, Twenty First Century Skills for Nonprofit Managers, published by BEP, is available to buy now. 

As charity leaders and managers, we have all received rejection letters or emails from funding agencies or trusts, some of which in turn threatened the future of our organisations. The first duty of a charity is to survive, and according to management consultant Peter Drucker, management is obviously instrumental in leading the organisation through difficult times and ensuring survival.

Read the full blog 

Tags: Chief Executives; Clore Social Associates; Clore Social Leadership; Leadership; Third sector.

Are leaders left to fend for themselves?

Posted on October 3, 2017
Posted by Guest Blogger

This guest blog was written by Robert Laycock who supports the organisational, leadership and management development of not-for-profit organisations across the North East.

By not joining up development opportunities for leaders of social change are we leaving the majority of them to fend for themselves in increasingly challenging times?

Earlier this week I was leading a seminar at the North East Fundraising Conference targeting delegates considering becoming a trustee for the first time.

Read the full blog 

Tags: Charity; Clore Social Associates; Clore Social Leadership; Collaboration; Leadership; Leadership development training.

Good leadership requires more than a vision. It requires trust.

Posted on September 27, 2017
Posted by Guest Blogger

David Green is director at Green Pepper Consulting and associate consultant at Action Planning.

Many people don’t trust banks or estate agents but they still use them; most don’t trust politicians, yet they still vote for them. But what about a charity? It needs to be more than good at what it does. It needs to convince funders, partners and the public that it is fundamentally trustworthy. So while good leadership is visionary and inspiring, a social leader also requires an understanding of their organisation’s unique nature and status in civil society.

Read the full blog 

Tags: Clore Social Associates; Clore Social Leadership; Leadership; Third sector; Values.

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