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I work for a small charity which runs a prison visitors’ centre. My previous boss, Vera, the CEO, had been in post for twenty-five years and everyone thought she was wonderful. A few months ago, she retired; I applied for the job and got it, but now I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t. We have a large team of volunteers as well as some paid staff and there’s a lot of backbiting going on. I’ve heard some of the older volunteers muttering that the charity has gone downhill since Vera left. Some of the volunteers – and the staff – are supportive and The Trustee Board back me. I’m too embarrassed to disappoint them by admitting that I’m finding the job stressful!
A long-serving widely respected boss is always a hard act to follow. It’s important to be open about how you feel, even though, understandably, you want to appear confident and in control. Some of the antagonism is likely to wither away over time, if you just do the job expected of you. If you overhear any more mutterings – have a quiet word with the offender as this may be enough to make them feel differently about you. It could turn out that their antagonism is not as great as you thought or having a one-to-one may help to reassure them regarding any issues they are concerned about. Organising a social meeting or a team day may also help to improve morale and ease some of the tensions. You could use this to explain your vision for the charity, to help get people behind the common cause again and draw a line under the previous regime.
Finding a business mentor from outside the organisation would be a good idea, for example through the Small Charities Coalition. http://www.smallcharities.org.uk/ If you have some volunteers who are stuck in their ways maybe they do need to move on. Make sure your volunteer recruitment strategy is robust.
Some of our other Recipes for Success may help, but if you’d like further support or a no obligation chat do get in touch.