The announcement, that some chief executives of major charities have high salaries, didn’t come as a great surprise. Charles Moore, writing in the Daily Telegraph, attacked charity chiefs in general, but he also opined: “Large charities need professional competence and charismatic leadership.”
The cult of the charismatic CEO does have its place. Half of the activity undertaken by CEOs, possibly more, is outward facing – negotiations with the government, approaches to funders, speaking to the media and representation of the charity’s case. ‘Charisma’ can help; for example, there are CEOs who can talk money down from the trees. That’s a great skill to have, but it’s got nothing to do with ‘leadership’. Whether leadership is about vision, direction, inspiration or motivation, that’s not what the CEO of a very large organisation generally does.
There are some outstandingly charismatic, competent individuals who work in the third sector, but they are not necessarily senior officers. There are youth workers who can relate to, motivate and inspire young people who are disheartened, excluded and disengaged. Community work relies heavily on people who can inspire and motivate others to work together – in France, the task is sometimes called ‘animation’. Neither of those professions commands the sort of salary that these rare talents apparently justify. I wonder why that is?