The brilliant reflections and advice shared by Sarah Gosling for trustees and leaders in her blog for Trustees Week were so insightful, I just had to share! This is the second in a series of blogs written by Sarah, which you’ll find here.

It’s very juicy – you’ll want to take notes.

Meet SarahSarah Gosling portrait photo

Sarah Gosling is charity board effectiveness consultant, supporting charity boards through training and development and board effectiveness reviews. She is also an experienced CEO, trustee and clerk.

I hope you enjoy! Over to Sarah…



As we’ve been celebrating Trustees Week, I am reflecting on some of the themes which emerged from an inspiring discussion at the last Leaders Who Brunch meet up on the theme: How to build brilliant support from your Board.

The words - Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, next to an artistic impression of a colourful tree

A new angle to charity board leadership which came to me during the session was about the shared leadership responsibility of trustees and the senior team.

The importance of the Chair/CEO relationship is regularly considered, but what about the wider senior leadership team relationship with trustees? Many CEOs I’ve spoken with talk about protecting their senior staff from the Board; many senior staff express frustration that the Board don’t bring the help they hoped they’d be able to access. What is it trustee boards do that mean good senior staff need protecting?

Or, as I’ve reflected over the last few days, what is it we should do to ensure we have the best collaborative leadership possible when the Board convenes?

1)     Induct the senior team

We invest in training for new trustees, have Chair development programmes and many opportunities for chief executives to work on their board room skill, doing the same for charity senior manager is the next step. Consciously exploring the role of the Board, identifying what great reporting looks like and how to build good trustee relationships are all good practices.  I love Debra Allcock-Tyler’s example where the DSC senior team meet for a pre Board dress rehearsal.

2)     Build relationships

The reticence of senior managers to approach trustees often surprises me in my board effectiveness work yet a proactive approach to a trustee with the right skills and/or aptitude usually brings a positive response. Equally the polite distance maintained by trustees worries me when trustees have so much legal accountability.

Fear of crossing the line from strategic to operational, or frustration that trustees do so often gets in the way. Time and energy given by the senior staff and trustees to get to know each other will build a culture of working as partners. This sharing of the leadership role characterises many charities which are really making an impact.

 3)     Set the tone

Challenge is not a license to criticise, being supportive is not permission to be a cheerleader. The Board should consciously set the right tone for its meetings and the relationship with the senior leadership team. A living code of conduct – which has been explored in induction and reinforced in annual reviews shapes a good Board culture and support a better framing of discussions, questions and decision making.

Where the charity’s values are being discussed and lived by the board as well as the staff team, a real difference in culture and performance usually follows.

Thank you Sarah! You can reach Sarah via email, find her on LinkedIn and on Twitter.


How is the board culture in your organisation? Is there a strong leadership from both the board and the team? Could the partnership do with some support so that both sides are able to flourish and lead better together?


Would you like to continue this discussion, as a CEO, trustee or senior team leader? Sarah and I are co-hosting a lively lunchtime webinar on 19 November and we’d love to see you there. You can register your free place here:

On the same side: charity board & senior team leading together better workshop

If you have any questions about the workshop or anything discussed in this blog, drop me an email or fill in the form below.