This has been a year of many firsts for me. A first family birthday without David, the first anniversary of his death, the first family holiday as three, but also, my first year as Chief Executive of little, but fierce National Voices.
Looking back at the nine months since I started, I realise just some of the many things I have learned. Some of it you only notice because it gets easier. Dealing with our wretched and inflexible bank doesn’t give me palpitations anymore. I now feel safe assuming that salaries will be paid on time (which wasn’t always the case). Next year I might even know what a ‘letter of representation’ is, when it comes to the annual report.
Some things don’t get easier, and probably shouldn’t: making decisions about people and their jobs – this stuff is hard, and so it should be, because these decisions impact people’s lives most directly and you realise very acutely that you only ever have an imperfect handle on what actually goes on.
Zooming out a bit, I believe the most important thing I have learned is that it is not enough to have great ideas. As a small charity CEO you need to have a clear and sustained interest in how to make things work: how do you turn this into a project, how do you resource this – where will the money come from and, who will do it and how?
Looking at all the charities I work with, large and small, I think this is what makes our sector strong – we are creative and have ideas, but when we are successful, we also understand how to make stuff happen, how to get money to flow, support into the lives of people who need it, and arguments onto the radar. We are, above all, doers. And I am proud of that.
Zooming further out, and reflecting on our role of shaping the debate, maybe we would be in a different place politically and as a country, if we as sector leaders modelled more of this practical expertise . Are we showing clearly enough that we are not just full of ideas, but also know how to make things happen? That we know what’s involved in running something - from arguing with a bank to dealing with a supplier? If we want to be taken seriously, we need to show every day how we work limited resources hard, and take responsibility for the decision that not everything we want is possible.
Looking forward to 2020, I believe that this groundedness in how things actually are for people living with ill health, and how they experience services, needs to shape our voice even more. It’s not enough to have a seat at the top table, we need to bring to it the real experiences of people in communities – laying these bare to decision makers, and narrowing the gap between what health and care system leaders talk about and what actually happens on the ground.
This is what will get me up in the morning on 6th January and ready to face the next year of firsts.
In the meantime, I am so grateful to everyone who gave me their patience and support as I figured out all the many things I didn’t know: our small team, our trustees, the many charity leaders from our membership who were generous with what and who they know, partners from across the health and care system who responded with good will and generosity as my thinking clarified.
Thank you. Now let’s stop for a bit and rest, ready to get some grounded, impactful work done in 2020. Onwards.