Welcome to Leadership worth sharing, a podcast in which ACEVO chief executive Vicky Browning talks to civil society CEOs about their careers, their experiences and what leadership means to them.
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In the third episode, Vicky meets Kate Lee, CEO of CLIC Sargent, to talk about the lies we tell ourselves that make us feel good as leaders, what true collaboration means, why we have to be brave in setting goals and learning from failure, and how we should be better at handling the hot potato that is charity chief executives’ salary.
“I have this kind of mantra that one of my mentors in the past gave me which is: I’m a good person trying my best. I think I run that by myself all the time.” Kate Lee
Kate joined CLIC Sargent as CEO in November 2015. Prior to this role, she spent five years as CEO of the Myton Hospice Group and three years as director of strategy for the British Red Cross (after 13 years in various roles in the organisation). In this episode, she explains how and why she decided to change CLIC Sargent’s approach to reaching two out of three children and young people with cancer in the UK, and how that resonated within the organisation. She also taps into how transparency in collaboration is fundamental for it to be really worth it for everyone involved.
After 25 years working in the sector, Kate shares her ambitions and the kind of legacy she wants to spend her time building.
Vicky Browning [00:00:00] Hi – I’m Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, the network for charity and civil society leaders. Welcome to Leadership worth sharing, a podcast in which I talk to civil society chief execs about their careers, their experiences and what leadership means to them. There are so many inspirational leaders working to make a difference in our sector and I hope that hearing from some of them will inspire and challenge you in the same way I’ve been inspired and challenged by all the people I’ve met through ACEVO.
Today, my guest is Kate Lee, CEO of CLIC Sargent, which fights to stop cancer destroying young lives. We’ll be looking at the lies we tell ourselves that make us feel good as leaders, what true collaboration means, why we have to be brave in setting goals and learning from failure, and how we should be better at handling the hot potato that is charity chief execs’ salary.
Thank you very much for joining us today. I want to start off just having a bit of a chat about you, actually. You’ve been in the sector for 25 years now…?
Kate Lee [00:00:06] I have. It sounds like a really long time when you say it like that. It doesn’t feel that long.
Vicky Browning [00:00:07] What’s your history been?
Kate Lee [00:00:11] So I did a public administration degree in Sheffield and had to do a placement year in the NHS as part of that, and just really hated it and thought: oh no I’ve made a terrible mistake! Actually, someone at university, one of my lecturers, suggested that I thought about charities. I didn’t know anything about them beforehand. But just thought, given that I’m quite creative, quite passionate about change, that I might be better in a charity than in a kind of big public sector organisation. So I graduated and went to St John’s Ambulance and I didn’t stay there that long and then went to Red Cross, where I stayed for a very long time, 17 years there, and absolutely adored it. And then moved on to my first chief exec role.
Vicky Browning [00:00:51] Which was at the hospice.
Kate Lee [00:00:52] Which was as chief executive of a hospice group closer to home, when my children were young that made sense. And then started at CLIC Sargent. This is my fourth year. It’s been great and I have been incredibly lucky with the organisations I’ve been at.
Vicky Browning [00:01:07] Tell me a little bit about CLIC Sargent. What’s special about it? Apart from the fact that you’re the chief executive there!
Kate Lee [00:01:11] I think it’s a really great organisation and I suppose I’m bound to say that, but I think there are some things about CLIC Sargent that do make it kind of uniquely placed to be really good and particularly in this environment in the sector. It’s quite big. Now our turnover is in the late 20 millions, which is great, but actually, we employ about 480 staff. I don’t think we’re so big as an organisation that we feel incredibly corporate. So I think that makes it really special. I think it’s quite a feisty organisation. I find that our staff teams are really up for stuff.
Vicky Browning [00:01:47] And do you think that feistiness comes from the fact that you’re working with young people?
Kate Lee [00:01:51] Yeah I think it comes from that and it also comes partly from the cause. I mean it’s a quite clear-cut cause. Children and young people with cancer are having a tough time. It’s really clear to see, you know. Our strategy is clear relating to that and feeling like you can make a difference within that as well. We spend a lot of time thinking about that internal communication and making sure people feel really connected to what we do. And, you know, that drives people to say ‘this isn’t right’, which is great and we have a real feel of that throughout the organisation, in every team actually. Not just our frontline service.
Vicky Browning [00:02:22] And one of the things that we’ve been talking about recently, and you’ve been quite public about, was a moment of realisation that you had when you thought about the particular fundraising request that you’ve been using for years, which is that ‘we’re only reaching two out of three young people with cancer’ and this is a kind of mainstay of how you go out and ask donors to contribute to your work. You suddenly realised that this was a statistic that been sitting around for a long time and wasn’t shifting and actually it wasn’t acceptable just to keep using that. But you really need to get under the skin of why you weren’t shifting the dial on it. What have you done in terms of addressing that?
Kate Lee [00:02:58] Just to give a little bit of background to it. So CLIC Sargent was formed of a merger of two charities. CLIC which was Cancer Leukaemia in Childhood and Malcolm Sargent Cancer Care was primarily a children’s cancer charity. And then about eight or nine years ago it widens its remit to working right up to 25. When we did that the organisation knew at the time it was going to take a while before it reached every young person in the UK. So when I came I think I was just also kind of convinced by this narrative that we reach two out of three children and young people with cancer. It’s a really good message. It sounds like one of those things you don’t really question. And then actually I came along to an ACEVO event, you had a great speaker and he was really challenging a small group of chief execs about the kind of – either the lies we tell ourselves but also the kind of things that become like wallpaper in our organisations. Problems that got put in the too difficult box that doesn’t get re-brought out. And we were talking about that particularly because the environment changes. So things like digital… and the digital developments in CLIC Sargent have given us a great opportunity to revisit that problem. But you just kind of don’t. We have an organisational value around integrity. So, we have four values: brave, confident, integrity and team. And I came back from that event and said: why are we still not reaching three out of three children and young people. So, you know, we wanted time – well we’ve had eight years; we wanted money – we’ve got a fantastic partnership with Morrisons, that’s gonna bring in 10 million pounds. If we don’t do it now we’re never going to do this and really challenge the organisation quite hard.
Kate Lee [00:04:29] We set ourselves a target, that was quite an interesting debate as well. I think I’ve set a big target, a big goal of when I wanted it dealt with, without knowing whether that could be achieved. And I think chief execs often do that when secretly they know up their sleeve they can do that and there’ll be a nice happy clappy moment and we all go ‘yay!’
Vicky Browning [00:04:48] What is the role of the leader then in thinking about those kinds of goals? When you set that target – the challenge I think is one thing but the target – was it set with the exec team, was that set with the board, was that just you as chief exec saying: this is my vision, of what we need to achieve?
Kate Lee [00:05:04] On this one occasion, I set it. Because I wanted to get some urgency behind the problem, because the problem had got stuck. So this two out of three messaging got stuck in the organisation. So I set it, partly because I thought if we start a discussion about this I’ll be told the 101 reasons why it’s got to be 10 years away. And I kind of wanted to put energy behind that. So that’s probably not my usual style, you’d be glad to hear. Usually, certainly target setting would be much more consultative. And I think it’s my job to set the goals, not necessarily the plan.
Vicky Browning [00:05:39] But this was a disruption.
Kate Lee [00:05:41] Yes. This was an absolute disruptive tactic. Strangely enough, my director of services had come to a very similar conclusion a few days, around the same time, a few days before because she’d also been to an event that had challenged her about thinking about why were we accepting this. So it’s been really valuable to set it. I think what we’ve realised since we set that goal is we had no clue why we weren’t meeting the needs of the missing third. Where they are, who they are, why are they not accessing our services? As you start to unpick those things, of course, you start to understand that the way you collect your data doesn’t necessarily tell you who you’re reaching and all those lovely third sector challenges that we have. But it’s just been a great way of putting momentum in the organisation and kind of acknowledging it’s hard, acknowledging we’re not well resourced in picking up huge numbers of extra children and young people, and saying “let’s do it anyway” has gathered real momentum. People have been exercised by it creating a huge conversation in the organisation.
Vicky Browning [00:06:40] Is there been any sense of resentment on it? That actually, you know, we are really doing everything we possibly can on this. And here you are coming in and saying it’s not good enough. How do you balance that challenge with the support that people need in order to take that next step?
Kate Lee [00:06:54] CLIC Sargent is probably in a great place because I think we genuinely are high challenge but high support. And I think we’ve got a lot of good support mechanisms in place, so hopefully, people know that these big challenges will lead to good conversations. So, for example, I’ve just completed a series of road shows. I’ve done 11 or 12 briefings around the country with groups of staff. We will have reached about 80 per cent of staff through those and as part of those we’ve talked about this challenge. What’s hard… You know, lots of our social workers saying: I just can’t take on loads more cases, I’m overwhelmed. And then say well do we reach them in a different way? What about reaching them through a digital offer? What about actually changing some of the way we assess need, so that we can bring more people in and maybe a slightly different offer for some, you know, more tailoring of our services. And then people have really clicked in and started innovating, saying: no, actually, wait, if we could do this I could probably do that better. You know. If we could have, you know, someone working outreach that might work, could we do this differently?
Kate Lee [00:07:52] I think what happens is you set the big goal. Yeah, on this occasion, it was a bit of a disruption in the organisation, and then really kind of letting people ruminate on it, sit with it take some comfort from it, be challenged by it. And then eventually start to come up with their own ideas and innovation about it. My role as a leader through that is to not let it go. So to just keep wondering round the organisation and saying…
Vicky Browning [00:08:15] Checking in.
Kate Lee [00:08:16] Yeah, how is this doing? Where’s three out three gone? How is that working? What’s the goal there? Interestingly we’re not going to hit the original target. That’s a bit of a first for CLIC Sargent. We didn’t talk about that target externally because I did know it wasn’t tested. But we’re not going to hit the target. We know a huge amount more now than we did before we set that goal. There’s been real energy and drive behind it and we will hit it eventually, just not in the time scale. But I haven’t got a problem with that, it’s probably a bit kind of aim for the moon and end up among the stars. We will now reach it at some point in the course of our next strategy.
Vicky Browning [00:08:51] Just to say I think the moon is closer than the stars…
Kate Lee [00:08:53] Is it? Maybe that’s what’s been going on! Big goal or nothing!
Vicky Browning [00:09:04] But I think that’s a really important point about accepting, in this case, I don’t see it as failure, actually. I mean I suppose you could say it’s failure to achieve that target within a specific time-frame, but it’s not failure as in cocking up something massively, but it is still disappointing.
Kate Lee [00:09:19] Yeah.
Vicky Browning [00:09:19] That you haven’t achieved something. So how do you harness that sort of negative into a positive to continue to drive it forward?
Kate Lee [00:09:27] I mean I think CLIC Sargent for me has been an organisation that probably hasn’t been terribly comfortable with failure. Someone once said to me actually in my early days: don’t use the F word here. And I thought, oh of course not, it’s a children’s charity! and then ealised that they were talking about failure. I think we’re not a great organisation for dealing with that and we’ve been doing lots of positive work around that. So one of the things I’ve been doing is appraisals. I’ve pushed managers to ask members of staff what they’ve failed on over the previous year and if they can’t tell them to push back and say, you know, were you innovative enough? You should be failing on some things. So we’ve again been having a bit of a discussion around that. And I think things like me saying “I know I set this target, and we haven’t done it, but that’s fine. Look how much further we are than we were this time last year”. So I think just being comfortable with it myself. I have this kind of mantra that one of my mentors in the past gave me which is: I’m a good person trying my best. I think I run that by myself all the time.
Kate Lee [00:10:27] If I was back a year ago would I still set that target knowing that I wouldn’t deliver? Yes I would, at the time it was the right thing to do. It was done for good reason.
Vicky Browning [00:10:34] But I think if you’ve got brave as one of your four core values to pull back from setting something ambitious would not be living up to that. You kind of have to, don’t you?
Kate Lee [00:10:45] Absolutely. And I think brave is so important for an organisation like ours because we are dealing with lots of intractable problems across the sector. The way that families with children with cancer are treated by the state, benefits… The reality is if we’re not brave, if we’re not the organisation at the forefront saying “that is wrong”, we have no right to advocate for parents and young people with cancer if we’re not a brave organisation. And that’s what they want from us. So yeah, I think we set ourselves big goals. I think this is a bit of a changing culture. So kind of set a goal and hit it. We’ll hit it but not as fast as I wanted.
Vicky Browning [00:11:21] And one of the things that you’ve identified, something that is happening across the sector, is the sense that we can’t do this alone. So, we need partners, we need to collaborate in order to achieve some of these goals. And you’ve set up, or you’ve been part of setting up, a children with cancer collaboration.
Kate Lee [00:11:37] Yeah.
Vicky Browning [00:11:37] Which is a group of charities working with children and young people in different cancer areas.
Kate Lee [00:11:44] Yeah. All sorts of different service delivery models, I think. Some of them are also cancer specific, like Bloodwise and Brain Tumor, but they’re organisations where a large percentage of their work is driven by children and young people and their cancer needs.
Vicky Browning [00:12:01] And so what are the joys and the trials and tribulations if you like. Because it’s quite big cohort. I mean it’s what, 17-20 charities?
Kate Lee [00:12:09] Yeah. We’ve got a core of what we’re calling founder members, so a core of main full members. Most of us, but by no means all, have a policy function. So a lot of our work is trying not cancel out each other’s voices.
Vicky Browning [00:12:23] Amplify voices.
Kate Lee [00:12:23] But amplify voices by trying to choose a set number of issues around the table that we really want to back each other up on. But some are just also organisations that by the nature of what they do, or how they work, they are big influencing organisations. The pros and cons. It’s been such an interesting journey. This is another thing that I just decided to do and then thought “oh I’ll just do it”. So I set that up, I’m sounding outrageously spontaneous and I’m not, don’t think I am actually, I think I’m usually quite risk averse. But we set this organisation up. Frank Fletcher the brilliant chief executive of Ellen MacArthur Trust agreed to come on board and help set this up, and I got a few charities already that we work with quite closely to come on board. Collaboration is really really important for charity like CLIC Sargent because we navigate into other people’s services, so we don’t do everything ourselves. We deliver lots of front line services but we also act as a kind of key signposter into loads of other charities. So I see it as my responsibility to ensure that I use the size and scale and weight of CLIC Sargent to, wherever possible, make sure those charities are strong, that they’re resilient, they’re sustainable. Because otherwise where am I going to send young people when we can’t work with them or we need someone else?
Kate Lee [00:13:35] So I think that collaboration is very much at the core because, in the nicest possible way, there’s something in it for us as well. And also because there’s a lot of children and young people’s charities, we do have a problem I think, nationally in policy and influencing work, that we can be played off against each other. And so it’s really important to try and stop that. I think one of the downsides, something that we still have to work through, is this very huge variance in size between charities that are coming together in the coalition. And, I mean, I think we’ve got on really well in the terms of identifying the big problems we want to tackle, but actually, some organisations are tiny one man bands. Some are kind of our size. So I think there’s something in collaboration about how do you genuinely meet as equal partners around the table. The thing that I think is always the elephant in the room for any kind of charity collaboration is our fundraising. We are competitors when it comes to fundraising, there’s no denying that. One of the things that’s been a real advantage for CLIC Sargent is we have childhood cancer awareness month in September. And last September we launched a policy campaign that we wanted to look at around a young patient travel fund. We want the government to fund travel to and from cancer treatment in the UK because families have to travel twice as far with children as adults do for their cancer treatment. And we made a conscious decision to not put any fundraising ask to that. Sign our petition, join our fight here… And every member of the collaboration felt that they could share that and get on board and push that policy message because there was no fundraising ask attached to it. You know sometimes there are big decisions, some charities are just not big enough to think “oh well we’ll do this without a fundraising ask”.
Vicky Browning [00:15:14] I was at an event with the wonderful Julia Unwin and we were talking about collaboration in the sector and she said something that really struck me. She said “true collaboration always involves some element of betrayal of one’s own organisation”. And actually, it is that in a sense, in terms of, if you think about the organisation, not necessarily the beneficiaries. Is that something that concerns you? If you’re going to do it really, really well there’s always an element where you have to sacrifice something in order to make the partnership work.
Kate Lee [00:15:41] Yeah I think one of the things to make partnerships work is you’ve got to be quite vulnerable. You’ve got to be honest and open about what you really want to happen here. And I think as a sector we can be quite passive aggressive.
Vicky Browning [00:15:52] Yes.
Kate Lee [00:15:52] So we say we want collaboration. Yeah, yeah, we must work in partnership. But actually there’s all these hidden agendas and charities still want to sit around tables and say “yes but I’m marvellous at…”. And I think one of the things I would say is that in order to truly collaborate you’ve got to be genuinely vulnerable about acknowledging what your charity can’t do, what you’re rubbish at. So we’ve just been designing a new strategy and I had a day where I invited loads of other charities, called ‘get your hands on CLIC Sargent’, to come along and we would just listen and you could tell us what we’re rubbish at, what we’re great at, what you’d like to see us do in the next five years, what you think we should stop, what we’re duplicating. And we listened to that debate and some of the stuff we clearly rolled our eyes about. But at least it started a really honest debate and we were able to be upfront and say “you know what, we’re not going to stop doing that. We think we’ve got a USP in it and this is why”. And I think the genuine sense is you’ve got to be honest and open. And we are the largest children and young people’s cancer charity because we work with 0 to 25s and sometimes I think it easy, or easier, to maybe be magnanimous in that place, when you’ve already got the market share, you’re already well established.
Kate Lee [00:17:06] It’s not like I don’t understand how hard it is for some of the smaller charities to feel like they’re not just constantly trying to mark their ground, keep their space, fighting off the big guys. I’ve worked for small charities, certainly been trustee of small charities. I felt that. I felt like “oh my goodness if we give an inch here and admit that we’re not great at that, you know, that other charity next door is gonna swoop in and make the most of it”. So I think for me that’s part of the issue. You’ve got to just trust that you can be completely honest. You’ve got to get some safety interest around the table which is, I think, what we’ve been trying to work on with our new coalition for the last couple of meetings really. How do we feel with each other. But it takes some leadership to do that.
Vicky Browning [00:17:46] There’s something about modelling that behaviour, because you can’t expect other people always to take the lead on that. And I think it feels to me if you’re in a position of, say greater power you have to kind of put yourself out there.
Kate Lee [00:17:58] Absolutely.
Vicky Browning [00:17:59] And then say I’m prepared to do this, and that’s modelling behaviour you want others to respond too.
Kate Lee [00:18:04] Absolutely. And I know it’s a bit of a cliche but it is being the change you want to see. So I think if I cannot come to the table saying I’m highly collaborative but actually don’t go there in these areas. Sometimes it’s about being honest. I mean there are conversations that we had with other players around the table where we’ve said “That’s our area, we will be taking the space there, that’s unique to us. We think we do it brilliantly and that’s what we’re going to do. And I hear that you’d prefer us not to, or do it differently, or fund you to do it instead”. But it’s just an honest conversation about where we stand. So I think that honesty becomes really key.
Vicky Browning [00:18:42] I think you’re a very great example of somebody who practices transparency and I think its because you’re a person who can’t do anything else.
Kate Lee [00:18:55] I am a natural oversharer!
Vicky Browning [00:18:56] You’re not a reserved type. So you’re very open, you’re open in your reporting of what your charity does. You’re open in your own, what you just said you talked about, transparency and openness within that collaboration. One of the things I remember reading of you was before I’ve met you, was a piece you did when you were a chief exec at Myton Hospice which was about chief executive salaries. It was one of those periodical times in the year when the press kicks off about how much some charity chief execs get paid. You wrote a very personal piece about why your staff were well-paid and why you felt you earnt a salary that your trustees had set for you. It’s a perennial thing. I’m just interested in that, your views on chief exec salaries. Is this something as leaders we should be better at explaining why we’re paid?
Kate Lee [00:19:42] Yeah.
Vicky Browning [00:19:43] Let alone the level we’re paid at.
Kate Lee [00:19:44] Yeah absolutely. I just read that great piece from nfp this morning and I really agreed with a lot of the sentiment of that. A lot of chief execs must appear kind of remote and not connected to the cause and therefore not valuable. You know, we are in a privileged world that we work with loads of them and we’ve met them and, you know, we probably feel the same, Vicky. I’ve never come across one that I haven’t felt was absolutely passionate about their cause. But that’s clearly not the external image we’re giving. I feel strongly about chief execs pay in that I think, as many people in the sector do, that we’re trying to tackle some of the most difficult and entrenched problems in UK society, and it needs big and confident brains to do that. And it needs people who are prepared to put themselves out there, prepared to make careers of this. Prepared to spend quite a long time tackling these problems, they won’t be tackled overnight. I wish young people at university saw coming into charity leadership as an absolute career choice. My sense is lots of people are still drifting into careers in this sector at the point at which they can afford to do it. And that’s a shame. We need that diversity of age and experience. So for me, I think pay is really important. I think we have to pay people to get them and pay people to keep them.
Kate Lee [00:21:09] I think we need to attract people into the sector and these jobs are difficult and complicated. What we’re not doing, clearly, is explaining that well. We’re not explaining our passion, what we drive, what we do. That sense of being connected to our causes. I’m quite prolific on social media. Talking about what I’m up to. It’s really interesting, I’ve talked to parents who have raised about pay. And I think because I’m very public about saying “I’ve been to this meeting, I’ve been trying to lobby this minister. I’ve been meeting with these young people today”, and I do that very openly. When I’ve talked to some of the parents at CLIC Sargent and the issue of chief exec pay has come up they often will say “oh we don’t mind that we pay you Kate but we’re not, you know, those other ones”. And I’m like “they’re all like me, if you met them you think they’re all like me”. But their sense is that because I am quite transparent about what I’m up to, what I’m doing, about the challenges of the organisation, that people get it. We’re just not doing that with a wide enough reach. But chief exec salaries are an easy pop so I don’t know if we’ll ever deal with it across the sector if I was honest.
Vicky Browning [00:22:17] I think that visibility is really important. I was going off to an event last week actually and I bumped into an ACEVO member at Kings Cross. And she said “Oh, where are you off to on our behalf today?” That just set me up for the whole day. I was “oh my gosh yeah, I am going on your behalf”. I love that. And that’s sort of the sense of being visible and people recognising what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for. You talked about your social media. You are very open on social and you’re quite outspoken, you are very you – in a complimentary way! How do you tread that line between your personal views and a kind of corporate view of what you may be as the chief executive of CLIC Sargent rather than as Kate Lee, or are those two things are the same?
Kate Lee [00:23:09] For me they are all the same. I know that some people will roll their eyes and say that’s not good leadership practice. I think with my social media one of the things I use as a really important rule of thumb is if you meet me in person, I’m the person you thought I was going to be from what you’ve read about me on Twitter. I don’t want a differential, it is the real me. This is the authentic me. Like it or leave it. So I am also very noisy and energetic with an opinion on everything in real life too. And that’s really important for me. I think I’ve been really, really lucky in that the organisations I have worked for I have a great relationship with my board, and I think I’ve been really empowered by my boards of trustees and my chairs to just be the authentic me. Whether its been luck or good management, I think I’ve chosen roles or ended up in roles where who I naturally am and my natural kind of personal values and my personality and how I want to lead, is exactly what that organisation needs and is looking for. And that’s a really comfortable place and I feel desperately for colleagues that I realise have ended up not in that position. I think that means that I’ve always got the kind of confidence to have my views and opinions about things as they will probably roughly fit. But it is difficult and there are some issues. We have a great publication in CLIC Sargent called What We Believe that really does talk about lots of key issues like families crowdsourcing for funding for treatments that might not be effective. We have a organisational position statement on those. And as long as people stick loosely to those position statements we really encourage people to have their own opinion across the organisation as well. So it’s not only me.
Vicky Browning [00:24:55] The organisation you work for deals with young people who are facing incredible challenges around their health, and some of that must be very gruelling. How do you protect yourself from the kind of emotional toll of working in an organisation where you’re facing these stories from young people that you seem to come up against a lot?
Kate Lee [00:25:15] I think there are a few things. Maybe ’cause I’ve grown up in this world, from mentoring in charities at 21. I certainly wouldn’t say I’m hardened to it but actually this has been my world. I started in service delivery, service development management right back when I was about 21 for Red Cross, and so I have always been around people who have got… Whether it’s refugees, whether it’s been working with people that have had a fire in their home, you know, someone who’s at a first aid incident, through to people that were dying at the hospice, you know, as well as now, working with children and young people with cancer. I think probably there’s something about the fact that I’ve kind of developed that strength and that resilience as I’ve gone along. Of course, it still affects me. I was in Birmingham Children’s Hospital just before Christmas and chatting to a lovely young guy who reminded me just so much of my own son, that for the first time in a long time I thought “I’m going to have to find a way of politely excusing myself from the room and have a little weep about this and then recover and go back in”. He was very, very similar to my own son. It isn’t true to say it doesn’t affect me. It’s interesting that I think for me there’s more of an underpinning effect. And the way I would describe that is when I worked at Red Cross, which was all about disasters and things that aren’t planned affecting people in their lives, I was a huge saver and I used to always have a nest egg of money because I was conscious of how quickly things can go wrong in your life. And then when I left there and went for the hospice, which was all about how life can end very quickly, I became a big spender. I was like “just spend up, you don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, let’s go on that big holiday”. So I see an underpinning effect of my causes in my behaviour. But I work with incredible people. I don’t worry about kind of saying “oh that one was really tough”.
Vicky Browning [00:27:09] And presumably the upside of it is when you have breakthroughs, when you achieve something, when you can see the impact your charity is making. That must be conversely incredibly rewarding and joyful.
Kate Lee [00:27:21] Yeah, and sometimes those things make me cry way more. So this weekend we had a young people’s reference group where we bring young people who are just about coming to the end of or post their cancer treatments together, and we do a participation piece so they hold us to account and co-design lots of things with us. And this weekend a couple of them said “Oh this is our last coming to the reference group, it’s our last time for that”. I was like “oh really”. They were like “Yeah yeah we’ve got this, it’s time to move on from the cancer bubble”. And I had real mixed emotions, but it was a real sense of a job done well. It was like what more could you hope for, as an organisation, to have a young person stood in front of you saying “I’ve got this. It’s time for me to step away from CLIC Sargent. I think I’m going to be okay”. But equally it makes you want to cry ’cause lots of these young people, we’ve been with them on a long journey and I know them well and have been challenged by them, even appointed by them because all our recruitment is done by young people. So it’s bittersweet but just amazing.
Vicky Browning [00:28:18] What about you as a leader and your vision for your next 20, 30, 40 years. What’s our responsibilities as leaders to leave some sort of personal legacy, on the sector, on the cause?
Kate Lee [00:28:35] In the terms of my career and why I’m moving on I think some of those things are starting to influence my thinking more. You know, earlier on in my career I was very ambitious for myself as well as for the organisation but wanting to prove myself as well as kind of have those big wins for the beneficiary groups that I’m working with. Increasingly I’m kind of starting to think about that legacy piece. You know, I’ve done 25 years in the sector, I hope I’ve got 25 more. And I think in the second half of my career I really want to change the world. Sounds really corny but I’m probably as driven as many of the founders I meet. I will never be a founder of a charity but I want to change something in this sector. I think about what that might be. I would love to do more around people really wanting to embrace working in charities as a career and seeing that from the start and not kind of where you end up and then realise you love it very late in life. I’d love to do more around the evil that is cost ratios, and people understanding about how we are funded and why we work like we do and that we are a professional body. So I think increasingly my ambitions are around really driving some more of that change and that positioning. But I always see myself as working in the service delivery charity because, although I deeply admire the work you do Vicky, I love being able to go and talk with a family whose child has cancer and remind myself why I come to work. I’m sure you do that with lots of us chief execs. I think there’s loads more to be done. I will never work anywhere else. I love this sector, I am in no way impartial about it, I love it, I will defend it to everybody and I think there’s loads more to be done in driving it.
Vicky Browning [00:30:18] It’s been fantastic talking to you, thanks very much. I really enjoyed our conversation so thank you for joining us.
Kate Lee [00:30:35] Thank you!
Vicky Browning [00:30:45] This was leadership worth sharing: the podcast by and for civil society leaders. Thanks for listening and we’ll meet again in a few weeks. If you want to know more about ACEVO check out our website: acevo.org.uk. Follow us on Twitter. Twitter.com/acevo. Goodbye.