Leadership Worth Sharing, Episode #7: Debs McCahon and Sarah Welsh

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.

Scroll down for the full transcription of the episode.

Today is a first for the podcast, as Vicky Browning is speaking to two leaders: Sarah Welsh and Debs McCahon, joint CEOs at Woodcraft Folk, a charity that runs cooperatively with children, young people and adults working together to learn about the world and develop skills and confidence. They talk about why the organisation decided to have two chief execs, and what it takes to do it successfully.


Like many organisations, we don’t have the capacity that we wish to achieve all of our ambitions, and we felt that by broadening out the leadership team – two people, two minds, two sets of skills – would help us solve all the problems that come on a chief executive table.

Debs McCahon, joint CEO, Woodcraft Folk

Neither of us is coming at something from a different values base. So we’re both heading for the same objective. We’ve just got different views perhaps, about how we might get there. So spending the time to try and understand why something is a priority for Debs, why something s a priority for me is what we have to focus on.

Sarah Welsh, joint CEO, Woodcraft Folk

Transcription

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. Today is a first for the podcast, as I’m speaking to two leaders: Sarah Welsh and Debs McCahon, joint CEOs at Woodcraft Folk, a charity that runs cooperatively with children, young people and adults working together to learn about the world and develop skills and confidence. We talk about why the organisation decided to have two chief execs, and what it takes to do it successfully. I think for the benefit of people listening, so we can work out who’s who, perhaps you’d like to introduce yourselves.

Debs McCahon [00:00:05] Hi I’m Debs. I take on the role of director of development at Woodcraft folk.

Sarah Welsh [00:00:09] I’m Sarah. I take on the role of director of operations and finance.

Vicky Browning [00:00:13] Well welcome to both of you. Lovely to have you here. Sarah, tell me about Woodcraft Folk and what makes it special.

Sarah Welsh [00:00:20] Woodcraft Folk is a co-operative youth movement and we support children to take the lead and change their world, through weekly group nights and camps. Woodcraft Folk activities develop children’s understanding and respect for the world, including activities to explore other cultures and the natural environment. But we’ve actually been around since 1925, which surprises most people because we’re still going strong. So we’re volunteer-led, we’ve got over 6000 volunteers who are involved in all aspects of our work. A few other things… So we have a very strong culture about enjoying the outdoors. We do a lot of that through camping groups, camping events. Debs and I have just got back from our annual gathering, we’ve literally been camping all weekend. The thing is with Woodcraft Folk is that it’s our annual general meeting but young people are involved in everything. So you’ve got young people chairing the debate. You’ve got young people proposing the motions, running the workshops, helping with food preparation. Whatever it is you’ve got young people at the heart of everything that we’re doing. And I think we think that’s what makes us so special coming back to your question on what makes it special, is the young involvement throughout. Our chair, our trustee board. Over half the members are under 25 and our chair is 23. Incredible young people involved in our governance in a very real way.

Vicky Browning [00:01:44] And that’s quite, I mean that is quite unusual when you have an average age of trustees across the sector of 65 or something I think it is. I mean you’ve really got a very different model for how you operate in terms of your governance but that’s also reflected in the model then for how you run the organisation because Debs you started in September last year, September 2018?

Debs McCahon [00:02:04] My current role, yes.

Vicky Browning [00:02:08] No, sorry, you’ve been there for ages! It’s the other way around! So Debs, you’ve been there for 11 and a half years. And Sarah you started in September.

Sarah Welsh [00:02:14] Yes.

Vicky Browning [00:02:15] And you’ve taken on the role of joint chief execs. So what led to that? Because previously it was one fellow… Jon Nott, for about eight years I think? And then… So what caused the change? Why have you taken this on as a joint role?

Debs McCahon [00:02:27] When the previous chief exec decided it was time to leave, myself… I’ve been the head of development director role since 2012. I decided that I needed to have a conversation with our trustees. I felt that if we didn’t change anything it would be stripping with the same problems, just passing on a job that wasn’t sustainable to somebody new. So having a conversation with our then chair and some of our members of our finance and general purposes committee to explore what were going to be the priorities? How could we actually fix things that were important rather than simply stick the same job description out for advert and recruit a lifelike replacement? And felt that… We’re a co-operative organisation. We describe ourselves as a co-operative youth movement. We use cooperation in everything we do when we go to camp, when we run our groups. And yet it isn’t reflected in our staffing structure. So we tried to explore about how we could be brave and try something and see whether or not that would give us a greater capacity to meet the needs of the organisation. Because I’ve been at Woodcraft Folk so long I feel I have a really positive relationship with our trustees. We trust each other. Like many organisations, we don’t have the capacity that we wish to achieve all of our ambitions, and we felt that by broadening out the leadership team – two people, two minds, two sets of skills – would help us solve all the problems that come on a chief executive table. And we have been doing this now for nine months, and we are learning and we are developing but I really think it is helping us make change at a faster pace than if we had just one individual doing that. So Sarah works part time, four days a week. I work five days a week. So in theory that’s nine days chief exec time.

Vicky Browning [00:04:06] Right.

Debs McCahon [00:04:07] But I’m sure you’re going to ask us other questions.

Vicky Browning [00:04:08]  I’m also interested in that sense of the chief executive as the person who holds this incredibly broad role, needs to be expert at everything, and how we sort of set them up a bit like a hero, that they will have all those strengths and be able to deliver on all aspects. And when you said that you were directly tackling some of the challenges that you didn’t want to replicate, was it around sort of capacity and expertise? Or was it around just having the time to do it? What were some of the kind of factors that you wanted to change?

Debs McCahon [00:04:42] I think it’s about having the breadth of experience and skills needed. So when we talk to our volunteers, when we’re running our residential centres or running a group, we often use the analogy of geese who work together playing to each other strengths. If people do cycling, they’ll get the idea, that you cycle in a peloton.

Vicky Browning [00:05:01] Yeah.

Debs McCahon [00:05:01] Different people take the lead at different times simply by feeling stronger in some areas than others. It is something we talk to our young people about a lot going: actually you can lead from the back as well as from the front. If we will take it in turns we will have a bigger impact that if we just rely on one person. Because the burden will become too much or there’ll be something that they don’t have the experience of they don’t have the skills necessary for the challenge. So it felt that by broadening our leadership team, by having a co-operative approach to our CEO role, we could take on more and actually probably deliver greater excellence in more areas of our work than expecting one person to know everything and be master of all things. What we also chose to do is to take out some of the roles that had been in the chief execs job description. So the chief executive has previously been responsible for communications and we didn’t have any communications staff in the rest of the organisation and it was one of those wish lists. It’s not urgent it’s not immediate. I’ll get round to doing that on a Friday afternoon, and by Friday afternoon suddenly the end of the week is gone and it hasn’t been done. So we also appointed a new communications manager part-time, which has helped strengthen our capacity in our core office and help us be more impactful and be, I hope, better known and understood as a result.

Vicky Browning [00:06:16] I was going to ask about whether the organisation needed a culture shift to be able to enable this. But given that cooperation is actually part of the DNA of the organisation I’m assuming it didn’t from that perspective but from a different perspective in terms of staff maybe, who were used to a single leader. Somebody, you know, the person that you look to… Was there a kind of an internal change that you think needed to happen to enable them to accept this? Or was everybody… So, you know, did then, did you need to kind of bring people with you on it? Or they were ‘oh yeah I get this I get this’.

Debs McCahon [00:06:49] I mean from my perspective I thought, when we shared the idea with the staff team… You know you have this brainstorming sessions with your trustees and you come up with what you think is a great idea. You think you’ve answered all that all the problems and all the questions that are ever going to be. And then you share it with a slightly wider circle. So the staff team, we’ve shared with a slightly wider circle so our volunteers. Actually they all got it and people were going ‘why didn’t we done this before?’. Why have we had that traditional hierarchical structure? We don’t necessarily have that in other parts of our organisation. And I think people recognise that because I think they were aware of the frustrations on us making limited progress in some areas and greater progress in others. I mean I also think it’s true to say that whilst we’ve got co-opterative leadership we also have very clear defined responsibilities. So I lead on development, fundraising and safeguarding and projects. There are individual staff who report directly to me. Sarah leads a much more HR, finance and there are particular staff who report directly to Sarah. And after Sarah was appointed we created this beautiful Venn diagram of these are Sarah’s responsibilities, these are Debs’s responsibilities and these were the ones that we share. That diagram needs reviewing and things will change and evolve and adapt. But I think we’ve invested in trying to communicate with everybody, going ‘It’s okay. We’ve got this between us. We can be the leadership that you need’. And I think the staff team really appreciated that they were going to be taken forward and that we will listen to them. So we have regular conversations and staff meetings with them to review how it’s working.

Vicky Browning [00:08:14] And so you recruited, the organisation recruited Sarah specifically for the set of skills that complement your skills. Did you two know each other beforehand or did you sort of meet at the interview stage?

Debs McCahon [00:08:25] We had a meeting prior to Sarah applying.

Vicky Browning [00:08:28] Because sometimes…there’s these types of roles people go in as a as a pair but you didn’t…

Debs McCahon [00:08:37] No, not a job share. We invited candidates when we put the general open advert out. We invited candidates to talk to myself as their… We were going to be the cooperative pair, and also to talk to our chair of the trustee board. Sarah and other candidates took that opportunity to get, to access us out. I don’t know how it felt for you…

Sarah Welsh [00:08:53] On a baking hot day just as Trump was in London. And we met up to catch up and think ‘Can I work with this person? Do I apply for this job?’. It was a good opportunity to be able to do that informal meeting first. Obviously we never worked together, we’ve never had any… Although I’d been quite involved with Woodcraft Folk before.

Vicky Browning [00:09:15] Because you’ve been a volunteer.

Sarah Welsh [00:09:18] I’ve been a volunteer for 10 years in Hackney Woodcraft Folk district level, what we would call district, Hackney district, going on camps, taking leading sessions when my own children were of Woodcraft Folk age. I knew a lot about Woodcraft Folk, and I really love its values and the feel it offered my children and other people’s children, an amazing learning experience and help them grow and develop as young people which… I’m… I was so proud of what Woodcraft Folk had done when I was a volunteer that I thought it would be amazing to be involved on a staffing level, leadership level, different leadership level in the organisation.

Vicky Browning [00:10:00] But it’s quite a different type of job to come into, when you know you’re working that closely with one other person. What were you looking for in Debs that made you think  ‘Actually this is gonna gel’.

Sarah Welsh [00:10:11] I think the thing that’s different from the way one might think of is that we’re joint chief executives rather than job share the role. So it’s not that we both try and do the same job. We both have our own remits and then we have this bit that is sometimes a little bit difficult to define which is the leadership bit. The leadership of the strategy, the leadership of the staff. But we both have very much our own areas of expertise and there are huge areas… I’ve never worked in a youth-focused organisation before. I come with good solid charity resources experience. I think we’ve actually got very different sorts of skill set. I mean the other thing that I was looking for was that… I suppose it’s that… It’s my first, it’s both of us first chief executive role. So it’s not that kind of lonely that you… You know that… Being the only person. We’ve got that shared, you know, we can ring each other up and say ‘What is going on with this? What can we do about this?’, you know, when those frustrations come in. That’s a problem shared. So I think that’s looking for someone who was wanting to work in that way. One of the things you see you’ve got to not be competing and I think the fact that we have such different skill sets helps that. Debs isn’t trying to tell me how to do the accounts and I’m not trying to tell her how to work with the children. So, I think that really helps, that we’ve got such different skill sets.

Vicky Browning [00:11:38] But that bit in the Venn diagram where you do overlap and you said that it’s quite difficult to define. But you did create that Venn diagram. So what goes in that overlapping bit? .

Debs McCahon [00:11:50] I suppose the bit that goes in the middle is partnership working, and therefore we tend to take the lead about what is the purpose of that partnership. Does that fit more neatly into Sarah’s area of work or Debs’s area of work, or do we have a connection from our previous roles and lives? Or who has the most capacity to develop something that doesn’t sit neatly anywhere? And there are others in there, so, you know, representation to extend organisations… Again, will have the same discussion about do you feel more confident with this area than I do or do you want to push yourself a little bit? So yeah, I think both of us have the opportunity that we can, as Sarah described, that somebody to turn to that isn’t somebody that you’re responsible for or responsible to, that you can go: actually, this is puzzling me and challenging me and I don’t know what to do about it. But also, actually, we can support each other to try things for the first time, which I think… You have this image that all chief executives know the answers to everything and therefore they don’t tell you anything new for the first time but actually we’re all human and therefore we all are pushing ourselves and are making mistakes. And whilst we have a really positive relationship with our chair and our vice chair, actually sometimes they’re not available or sometimes they don’t have the experience or the skill to help guide and steer. Some of them are very good at listening. So it’s good that we can get together and we get together on a on a weekly basis just to update and review, to see what needs to happen next and what progress we’re making and importantly where we’re not making progress.

Vicky Browning [00:13:16] So, talking of the chair. You know, Acevo really recognises the importance of the relationship between the chair and the chief executive. Your chair is 23 and he or she…

Debs McCahon [00:13:25] He.

Vicky Browning [00:13:26] He now has two chief execs to have that relationship. How do you manage that relationship between the three of you?

Sarah Welsh [00:13:31] The chair has no line management experience. So we felt that it was more… But he’s a very good chair and he’s very good at chairing meetings, he’s very good at representing the organisation. A bit like the way we do cooperative leadership here we have the vice chair of operations, who is someone who’s got a wealth of experience of line management is actually your line manager, for lack of a better word. And so while we keep both the chair and the vice chair of operations very much in the loop, we actually talk more on a kind of problem-solving basis around the kind of our own development for example with the vice chair of operations. But it isn’t an easy thing to get, because there’s now four people in what would normally be a relationship between two people. So we have changed quite a lot as we go along. I mean I think when I arrived there was a weekly meeting of those people. I just felt that was too much ongoing involvement in the operations. And so now we’re trying to do more of a regular, for example, we do a regular weekly email to them both which says what was the highlight from last week and what are our three priorities for next week. So they’ve got some sense of what we’re actually working on without us having to be kind of somehow accountable on a weekly basis for what we have or haven’t done.

Vicky Browning [00:14:55] On that basis you meet sort of once a month or something like that.

Debs McCahon [00:14:58] Yeah, yeah.

Vicky Browning [00:14:59] Well I meet with my chair once a month. So it seems to me perfectly sensible. In terms of how you work together, then. I think it is important to distinguish between job share and joint chief executive. But you still need to have… and you’ve got different operational strengths and skills. But presumably you still need to have aligning attitudes and values. Did you have a conversation about your leadership styles and your values and how they might dovetail with each other? Or is that something that’s grown up as you’ve spent the last nine months together?

Debs McCahon [00:15:28] I think it’s grown. No we didn’t at the very beginning. It’s the honest answer. And maybe the challenge of the things that need to be done outweighs that you taking the time to reflect. But I think Woodcraft Folk is a very values driven organisation. You wouldn’t work for Woodcraft Folk unless you believed in the principles that we demonstrate and teach to young peoples.

Vicky Browning [00:15:47] And so, Sarah, for you coming into that sort of.. you said you’ve not worked with children and young people before. That must have been quite a different way of doing things.

Sarah Welsh [00:15:56] But I knew about the values.

Vicky Browning [00:15:57] Yes.

Sarah Welsh [00:15:58] Because I’ve been so involved in Woodcraft Folk as a volunteer myself. And that’s what appeals. So I would have been really surprised if I’d got here and found that Debs didn’t share those values. And that’s why I got involved as a volunteer before I eventually got involved in this current role.

Vicky Browning [00:16:13] Yeah. In terms of styles then. Do you think you have similar leadership styles? Do you think you approach things differently?

Debs McCahon [00:16:22] I think we do approach things differently. But I actually think that’s helpful. You said earlier that we have different skills and different strengths and therefore rather than looking at a problem from just one angle we can look at it from different angles to make sure that we are considering consequences of the decisions, the direction that we’re travelling in. And that doesn’t mean sometimes that we have to have debates and discussions. But when we find the consensus which we would be looking on for board to find a consensus decision we can then present that and I think that really helps our board. Because they’re not necessary having to unpick the idea because it’s being unpicked from a Debs perspective and it’s being unpicked from Sarah perspective and put back together. It’s something that’s a little bit more holistic.

Vicky Browning [00:17:01] And what about when you don’t agree?

Sarah Welsh [00:17:03] Well we have to talk about it. I mean that’s the answer. There’s no other way in that kind of situation. And I suppose that we have to give each other the time to unpick what’s going on, why is it that we’ve got a different perspective. Neither of us is coming at something from a different values base. So we’re both heading for the same objective. We’ve just got different views perhaps, about how we might get there. So spending the time to try and understand why something is a priority for Debs, why something is a priority for me is what we have to focus on.

Debs McCahon [00:17:34] It’s about being pragmatic as well. We teach to young people about consensus. If we can’t do between the two of us… Talking about it is the answer and being realistic about what we think that we can achieve. And ideally I’d like to get a magic wand to make everything fine. But I don’t have one. So we have to work hard at it and we both do work hard.

Vicky Browning [00:17:51] I like the idea that by having the kind of conversation beforehand you’ve thrashed out what some of those areas of contention are going to be. And through that you’ve created something that actually it’s a bit more robust than it might have been if it was just a single perspective. Have you ever had a situation where you’ve been at a live environment, the AGM where… Debs said something and you’ve gone: ‘hmmm, that’s not what I think’. Or vice versa. And you’ve had to kind of deal with it in the spot or you… you know, you’ve smoot it all out beforehand and it will never happen.

Sarah Welsh [00:18:22] I can’t think of a situation where that’s been the case.

Debs McCahon [00:18:25] I mean I think that sometimes one of us might word it differently and therefore we just need to approach the fact that when you are doing a joint role you can’t be a complete control freak. And just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But I don’t think we’ve had anywhere where we have said something that would be in a disagreement with the other. My frame is slightly different but actually if we get a message across, does it really matter?

Vicky Browning [00:18:45] There’s something here about the types of personality that you need to have to make this work. And it’s about not letting your ego take charge and being able to hear the other person and understand that disagreeing doesn’t mean conflict. It can mean a different perspective and actually that’s something to value. Do you think that’s the kind of key to it is that you’re not the kind of people who will go in and throw your way around?

Sarah Welsh [00:19:06] I definitely think that neither of us have got big egos. We’re doing the joint chief executive role because it seems like the we’re the right people to do it, not because we’re both desperate to be chief executives and have a big ego, be paid a huge salary, which of course we’re not. But I was just thinking what you were saying about the potential for conflict. We have very few staff and the organisation is very complex. It used to be 400 branches, every group was a separate branch. And you know there are 93 districts, and each of those has their own set of books and their own bank account or several bank accounts. So the structure of the organisation is incredibly complex. So the pressure to just try and make change is really difficult because you’ve got to make an awful lot of people change the way they’re doing things. And I suppose that if we do come into conflict it is normally because we’re trying to think which of these is the priority. There are so many things that we want to simplify and make more effective, so that we can spend more time doing the things we do so well and educating young people. We don’t really want to spend our time transaction processing. My personal ambition is to make a change to those kind of systems and structures and simplify things in order to support the incredibly ambitious strategic plan that we’ve got leading up to 2025, which has this widening participation and empowering far more young people than we do at the moment. So that’s where I think if there is conflict it’s when we’re just there are so many things we want to do and we just perhaps have different views about which one is more important.

Vicky Browning [00:20:51] Speaking as a solo chief exec, I have those internal conversations all the time. I just have to have them with myself. You know there are so many things that we could do and Vicky are gonna do this. I don’t know Vicky, maybe we should do that one! And how brilliant it would be to have another Vicky…  So if you were to kind of give advice to other people about how to make this work what would be the kind of key things to think about? Or for them to sort of consider before they take this on?

Debs McCahon [00:21:20] For me one of the things that makes this work for us is that actually our roles, whilst we have shared responsibilities, we also then have a very long list of specific responsibilities. So I think it must be much harder to do a traditional job share for a CEO because, actually, when does one person stop leading, take over pick up and also just updating each other where you’ve got with certain things. Where… I think the fact that Sarak leads these pieces of work and I lead on those is clear.

Vicky Browning [00:21:45] So your advice is don’t job share.

Debs McCahon [00:21:46] Well I have to say I’ve never job shared and therefore I… It feels to me that it would be very very difficult because you get me some half done and on Wednesday for example and maybe somebody else has to finish it on a Thursday. That must be really really challenging. Where Sarah and I can plan something and say I’ll go and do this and I’ll go I’ll do that.

Vicky Browning [00:22:05] I’m really interested, we’re really interested as an organisation in different leadership models because that sort of single hero chief exec, which we talked about right at the beginning, is arguably getting increasingly unsustainable given the increasing complexity of the role. You know, there are lots of different ways of doing it and I imagine somebody in a job share would have all sorts of reasons why their setup works and why they wouldn’t do yours. And so I think we should definitely talk to others. But Sarah what would you give us as advice to somebody else thinking about this?

Sarah Welsh [00:22:37] Well in addition to being the joint CEO I’m trying to do it four days a week, so I suppose one of the things I have is trying to have fairly clear boundaries. Because on the day off I don’t work. And of course the great thing there is that if everything exploded Debs would be there. There’s something about that kind of partnership which is really helpful in enabling me to work four days a week which is how I wanted to do it. But I suppose in terms of advice I think it is all about communication. So talking is so fundamental to it and, you know, we just put a lot of time into that, really. Sometimes we have a three-hour meeting once a week and that’s quite a lot of time, I think.

Vicky Browning [00:23:18] To talk to each other, talking to the trustees, making sure that the channels of communication just remain open and easy and…

Debs McCahon [00:23:25] And the other thing is, writing down your plan. So everybody knows who is doing what, and it’s clear. So we write minutes of the things that we’ve agreed and then share with our chair team. So they also know who’s taking a lead on what. Because it could be possible you could have your discussion and you move on to the next thing and things slip through the gap. So by recording and planning everything, it also helps make sure that we don’t lose things.

Vicky Browning [00:23:48] Because even when you’re communicating well there are still some times when somebody says something and the other person hears something different. So presumably making a note of it you can then go back and (say) ‘Actually that’s not quite what I meant by that’. And then that enables you to clarify.

Debs McCahon [00:23:59] We do pick each other up on that because we use different language despite the fact we have both worked in the voluntary sector for years, our terminology is slightly different and therefore.. ‘I see what you mean by that. Are you meaning what I think you mean or you mean what I want you to mean’ and therefore, again is about just be willing to challenge each other as well as being supportive of each other.

Vicky Browning [00:24:16] And just… Away from you guys for a moment just the thrust of the organisation about supporting and educating and improving the lives of young people through what you do. What about young people as leaders? What are your ambitions in terms of enabling the next generation of leaders? How do you see your role in that?

Debs McCahon [00:24:33] I think our young members are inspirational and I feel that we have a very strong duty to give young people the skills and the confidence to change the world. And I remember my own idealistic 17 year old, I really thought I was going to. And it’s only now as a mature person that I turn around to go actually, I have been. Just in smaller steps than I thought was possible when I was 17. And we start that with our preschoolers by asking them to make decisions about what activities that they are going to do, so they get used to being consulted. They get used to forming an opinion and making judgments. And that builds and builds and builds and builds. Then we got a 23 year old chair who is chairing meetings and making decisions and coordinating other the trustees, as well as communicating their vision to these two joint chief execs who are probably old enough to be his mum. I think we’re looking to make sure that we give young people really strong critical thinking skills, so that they can walk in situations, assess them, make judgments for themselves. Not necessarily be easily influenced by the media around them and can focus on what could be a positive outcome for themselves as well as the wider community. And we’ve got a lot of young people at the moment who are very heavily involved in climate change activism which I find quite inspiring  that they care and they take action and they communicate positively to others. And that particularly recently around the school strikes against climate change. Seeing the amount of media attention put back to a topic that we seem to stopped discussing as a nation has been really positive. And my interpretation of that is because actually young people have been out there and are being counted and have been lobbying and discussing and influencing our decision makers.

Vicky Browning [00:26:11] You presumably then are learning from them at the same time. As a sort of loop around that. So do the young people that you work with surprise you and challenge you in ways that enable you to grow?

Sarah Welsh [00:26:23] Absolutely. I mean just watching at our annual general meeting we just had. We had three different young people chairing different parts of the motions debate, because it’s a traditional AGM with people bringing motions and amendments to motions and voting and going on and watching them do that, I was definitely learning stuff myself.

Debs McCahon [00:26:44] Our AGMs are very unique. Some of the delegates are only 10. Some of the delegates are 70 and therefore take the whole audience with you. And the oldest chair at the weekend was 23 and the youngest was 20 maybe. But they’ve practiced using consensus decision making it Woodcraft Folk since they were six. So actually they have done an awful lot longer than I have. And I think we learn from them all the time and particularly the moment… Particularly around inclusion issues and particularly trans inclusion issues, changing the language, changing approach. We are getting all of that from our young people rather than anything that we were taught when we were at school or college or doing our profesional studies. One of the things that keeps Woodcraft Folk fresh for other young people is the fact that we do organically grow and change and evolve our thinking on the topics based on what’s important to young people at that time.

Vicky Browning [00:27:32] And so back to you two then. What’s next for the two of you? Will you… Do you come as a pair now? Is that just for this job? Do you stay here, do you move on? You know. What do you see as your ambitions as leaders within the sector? I mean, Sarah, you haven’t been there very long so it’s quite early days.

Sarah Welsh [00:27:48] I think we’ve just started. I mean it’s a difficult question to answer. For me, and I think for both of us, in 2025 is Woodcraft Folk’s 100 year anniversary. And our whole strategic plan, kind of strategic plan, is building up to that date. So for me that would be a natural review point, in six years hence, to say OK where are we now? Have we achieved? I’d really like us to be able to say in 2025 that we’ve made a difference to young people, us personally have made a difference.

Debs McCahon [00:28:17] It’s still very early days about the cooperative leadership thing. We’ve been here nine months together. The strategic plan was only just approved before Sarah was put in place. So you’ve inherited it. So I think it’s very right in saying that working towards delivering that is a key focus at this time. I don’t think we’ll be together forever. It’s not a marriage. But I see us reviewing the way that is working, learning from it and developing it and hopefully making the organisation stronger and more sustainable as a result.

Vicky Browning [00:28:45] Well that’s wonderful. I think we’ve come to the end of that and that’s great. Thank you both very much for joining me today Debs plus Sarah, Sarah plus Debs. As I said earlier on, I think it’s really important for us to explore different models of leadership and how we can do things differently. And you are great shining examples of that. So thank you so much for joining me and best of luck with it.

Sarah Welsh [00:29:05] Thank you.

Debs McCahon [00:29:06] Thank you.

Vicky Browning [00:29:10] 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 our website acevo.org.uk (that’s a c e v o dot org dot uk) and follow us on Twitter, twitter dot com slash acevo. Bye!

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