Brian Cavanagh CONSULTING

Leadership Articles

Should I stay or should I go – how to avoid the pitfalls of CEO succession planning

Should I stay or should I go? At some time in their career, chief executives will have to ask themselves that question. All chief executives have a sell-by date. Some are better than others at being aware of it. And better to ask the question of themselves, rather than have it be answered by the board! However, in this article I want to explore a way beyond that simple binary question. And by way of an example, I want to

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Duty of care to Board Members

What a difference a year makes. In the past, boardroom discussions about ‘duty of care’ would have focused on general staff welfare, ensuring a safe and secure working environment and specific policies around anti bullying and whistleblowing. The conversation has focused rightly on the responsibilities on the board as employers. And the last year has made that responsibility even more important. Staff rightly expect their employers to ensure a duty of care throughout the pandemic, yet spare a thought for

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Leadership lessons in praise of clear communication in times of crisis

In this uncertain time, we all crave certainty. And when you lead an organisation, you can often feel obliged to provide that certainty. Both as a protection to staff but also to reassure them that someone is in control, and there is a plan. So how should leaders, connect and communicate with staff during these times? Speaking to a former colleague last week, he recounted a recent memo from the CEO. It felt like he was being talked to in block capital letters, with the

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What do we want from Social Care?

What do our societies want from social care workers? And more importantly what do these workers expect from the societies they serve? Now that the clapping has stopped, and those who were lauded as heroes drift out of our collective consciousness, perhaps it is about we started asking. It is timely then, that the Scottish Government then, has announced a high-level review of adult social care. The committee contains experts and iconoclasts in good measure, and will I believe have

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Leadership lessons – in praise of board assessment

In these uncertain times, how do you know your if your charity board is performing and effective? One way is an evaluation process including board self-assessment. It would be hard to find a board that does not have a process to evaluate CEO effectiveness. Yet a lot charity boards do not evaluate their own effectiveness, or if they do, it is infrequent. Evidence from a US National Index of Not for Profit boards shows better performance between those who evaluate and those

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Leadership lessons – in praise of uncertainty

Is certainty an overrated leadership attribute? For me, yes. And by certainty, I mean that which dismisses alternative views, and advice as a sign of weakness. Uncertainty becomes a synonym for indecisiveness. This emphasis on certainty can often result in a false view implying that it only requires ‘will’ to be decisive and to solve problems. And if we have learned nothing else from the covid pandemic, it must be the ‘will and belief’ is not enough. As we emerge

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Making virtual boards engaging – 5 key actions

Struggling to maintain board governance and decision making during Covid 19? Thanks to Zoom and other platforms, organisational board governance can continue unhindered by the current crisis. Yet the tech in and of itself does not solve a bigger challenge, namely, to ensure your board meeting is effective and productive. And in doing so, creates an environment that engages and involves members, encouraging curiosity and challenge in equal measure. I have recently begun chairing the virtual board meeting of an

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Governing Despite Covid – How your Board can Respond

It is has become a cliché to say the Covid-19 is rewriting the rules and changing our actions in many areas of business and work. Yet pandemic or not, it hasn’t changed the need for good governance and leadership around the board table. Indeed because of the extent of the crisis, the need for good governance is even greater than in other times. So, spare a thought for all those board members who are charged with the responsibility of governing

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Is your board doing well? – How do you know?

So how do you know if your board is doing well? In my role as a trusted adviser working with boards, this is often the first question I ask. And I am struck, how often boards and members can struggle to answer the question. Most attempt to answer by referencing the effectiveness, or growth of the organisation that the board is responsible for, and whilst it can be argued that that they play a contributory part, assuming that the board

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The CEO and the Board – A Recipe for Success

I have yet to meet a CEO who at some point in time hasn’t been frustrated by their board – it goes with the territory. That said, it should be an exception and not become the norm. As a CEO it is best you regard as your board as a valuable ally. And to ensure that it is, you need to invest your time in it. What I find interesting is that of all the groups that CEOs have to deal

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Listening in a ‘Shouty’​ World

I believe that the ability to listen is one of the most important attributes of a leader. However, what is also clear, that it is both under used and under practised by many civic and business leaders. In the age of the new ‘strong man’ leader, it is as if listening is seen as a sign of weakness or indecisiveness. Whether on an international stage or in local business, there is a temptation for new leaders to talk, rather than

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Leadership Lessons – The Power of Critical Thinking

How often do you really think? Think critically? As a CEO you are making decisions all the time. But is your process robust enough to respond to the wide range of issues that you face? One of the challenges that organisations face is to ensure that there is a critical thinking culture operating within them, that is led and encouraged by the CEO. Critical thinking requires challenging core assumptions, seeking different perspectives and providing time and resource for that to

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Leadership Lessons – The Value of Openness

How do you hold onto good leaders? There is a shelf life for every leader. And good leaders know theirs. Yet moving on may not be the best answer for them or their organisation. Is there another approach? Let me explain. A CEO, whom I know, had held the position for some time. She had brought the organisation through a difficult financial time that involved complex restructuring. As result of these changes, it began to grow consistently. However, one of the consequences

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Leadership Lessons – The Value of Pace

In preparation for a new leadership role, I took a 360 evaluation. The process was pretty revealing. It showed that some of my assumptions about my strengths and weaknesses were off the mark. More importantly, something I thought was a strength was identified as a weakness. Yet without the 360 evaluation, I would have been blissfully unaware of it. Let me explain. The feedback from the 360 stated that ‘I looked like a man in a hurry’ and such an approach

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Leadership Lessons – The Value of Reflection

As a leader, there is going to be a time when you will to decide to remain or move on. Making that choice can be challenging. So how exactly do you make such a choice? I faced a similar turning point more than a decade ago. I was the chair of a large NHS board, a position I was reappointed to. However, about halfway into my second term, I realised that I was in a repetitive rut. I’d led a substantial service

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Leadership Lessons – The Value of Coaching

When I became chair of a major health board in Scotland, I requested having a coach to support me in my role. At first, civil servants were surprised by my request, telling me I was “the finished article”. Even though I had a lot of experience in public leadership, I understood I was going to be tested in ways I hadn’t been before. This was a leadership challenge of a different nature. The level of political sensitivity and the pressure

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Leadership Lessons – The Value of Uncomfortable Truths

A leader’s willingness to listen to uncomfortable truths is an asset. When a leader asks for input about their way of doing things and acts on the information it can have a transformative effect. For instance, a CEO having difficulty with a local authority in relation to financing and funding asked his senior staff for their input on why it was proving so difficult. He took the risk of asking them if he was adding to the problem rather than

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