10 lessons from my first 10 years

In this Leadership Blog, ACOSVO member and Director of Barnardo's Scotland, Martin Crewe reflects on ten years in post and lessons learned from the top.


On 1 February I will have been director of Barnardo's Scotland for 10 years. It is quite a milestone and feel that I should have all sorts of profound observations in line with my new 'elder statesperson' status.  Maybe not that profound but I will offer ACOSVO members 10 quick thoughts: 5 are organisational and 5 more about leadership.

  1. Mission - at Barnardo's Scotland the difference we make for children and young people through our services and influencing is ultimately all that matters.  Everyone who works, volunteers and supports the charity has a crucial contribution to make and everyone should feel that direct connection to the mission. 

  2. Impact - our focus has to be on changing the system not just providing services for a relatively short period of time.  We all celebrate when we secure 3 years of 'long term' funding but sustaining the impact is a challenge.

  3. Continuous Improvement - we can always innovate and improve so we should challenge ourselves and others to drive for better.  An honest assessment of our own performance against other charities is essential as we should strive to be the best or give way to others.

  4. Diversity - equalities issues should never be an afterthought.  They have to be at the heart of everything we do because a more diverse organisation is richer and more effective at delivering on the mission.

  5. Partnership - working with other organisations brings different perspectives and enables us to demonstrate our support for the wider voluntary sector.  It is a privilege to work for a charity and as chief officers we should be generous in our support to colleagues.

  6. Energy - the demands of working for a charity that does brilliant work can feel limitless yet we all have a limited amount of personal energy.  We have to be disciplined and focus our individual efforts where they will have most impact - the question we should ask ourselves as chief officers is "what can I do that no-one else in the organisation can ?".

  7. Responsibility - we should always take responsibility for the whole charity's performance and act if any aspect is under-performing.  This means making tough decisions promptly and being unpopular if necessary.

  8. Remaining Curious - there is sometimes a temptation as we get older to focus on getting better at what we're already good at rather than looking for new challenges.  However, we usually learn most when we're outside our comfort zones and mastering a new skill is profoundly satisfying.

  9. Gravitas - leaders at all levels of the charity can be most effective if they are calm, confident and consistent.  This helps draw out everyone's best contribution no matter what challenges we are facing.

  10. Role Modelling - research for the Institute of Leadership and Management suggests that the most important traits that staff look for in their leaders are competence and strong values.  As charity leaders we are always under scrutiny and we have to demonstrate positive behaviours in everything we do.  And sometimes simply saying 'thank you' makes a big difference. 

I hope at least some of those thoughts resonate ... if not then I will try and have something more profound to offer in 2027!