We have just said goodbye to our retiring Chair, Gordon Samson, and welcomed Ann Landels as his successor. In doing so, we experience all the sadness at losing someone who has put so much into the organisation both in terms of his time and expertise but, perhaps more importantly, also his character and values. At the same time, we feel the anticipation tinged with nervousness of a new Chair bringing fresh ideas and a different style, albeit from someone we already know, who is inspired by Apex and wants to help lead the Board into an always uncertain, yet intriguing future. It is at times like this I reflect on what motivates people who have busy lives and successful careers and, in many cases, have earned some down time, to volunteer to serve as a Board member and accept all the stresses and bureaucratic requirements, the financial insecurities and the interpersonal challenges which are inevitable in governing a charity.
These are the questions we ask when people apply to come onto the Board and, although there are many reasons why people eventually make the decision, in the end it comes down to their character. They believe in giving something back to society, they are inspired by the area of work undertaken by the charity and they want that work to succeed. I was always taken with the definition of a successful organisation which states that it should “do the right things, in the right way, in the right place at the right time”, and that essentially is what our Board members are helping us to do. In this period of massive social adjustment and with the need to innovate and adapt, organisations are increasingly open to making reactive knee jerk responses to challenges and this can easily open them up to short-cuts and poor attention to detail. The role of the non-executive Board member in keeping us on track and focused on delivering the things which our client group most needs, in a way which is most appropriate for these times, is invaluable but, at times, thankless and dull. Thank you non execs everywhere, you are more valuable than you know.
As our new Apex Board takes shape and finds its own dynamic, so the executive team has to adjust how it relates to the Board, and these adjustments filter through to staff in all areas of the organisation as we take on some of the new ideas and priorities. The key thing about this is that it is not in the least bit threatening, but rather it refreshes and inspires if it is done well and communicated properly.
In Apex we constantly talk about communicating not just facts and skills to those who use our service, but our ethos and values. We promote personal responsibility, high aspiration, a sense of community pride and belonging, and an understanding that working together is a lot more positive than going it alone. These principles form the basis of everything we try and teach or mentor and are the heart of Apex. We often wonder how best to refer to those who we work with, and I was always inspired by one of our teams in Dumfries and Galloway who simply refer to them as volunteers, thus emphasizing the reality that, whatever our status, we have to form a working partnership to achieve a positive outcome and we are none of us so different from each other.
It takes character to commit to helping others to thrive, and it takes character to overcome a poor start, so maybe the gap between a Board member and someone who is just starting their journey with us is not as vast as it first seems? In the long run our ambition is that those we work with will value society enough to want to give back in whatever way they can and support those who are struggling to feel a part of anything. Every day we see our service users becoming peer mentors, volunteering in communities and learning the personal sense of value which this brings, and it changes their future. My hope is that one day one of them is doing my job and that our Board is full of people who have gone through the same life experiences as those we try to assist. That would be a job well done.