Being friends with staff while you’re a board member can be difficult
Being a young trustee isn’t always easy. Aside from the barriers to gaining the position, as previously outlined, there are yet more obstacles one must overcome. Below are the two that affect me the most.
Managing relationships as they transform from personal into professional has been difficult; the boundaries aren’t always as distinct as they could be. Because I worked with both Plan and Leap for several years before becoming a trustee, I had become close to, and in some cases, friends with, employees. It was difficult to distinguish what I should and shouldn’t disclose to them and vice versa.
I was also still a member of Plan’s Youth Advisory Panel during my first year as a trustee. This meant I had to manage my relationship from being a member of the panel and friends with the staff, to being a member of the board. Given my closeness to members of staff, and my close involvement in their work, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to make decisions in one single capacity.
Having a closer relationship with our staff than most of my board colleagues, and so having to balance the professional/personal with them, has made me feel isolated at times. Moreover, because being a young trustee is such a novel role it automatically adds to that isolation. Dealing with it has been difficult – but as I’ve developed in my roles I’ve learnt to judge which comments are relevant to the board, and to determine whether what I hear is part of my professional or personal relationship with staff.
Boards ought to be aware of trustee relationships with the staff, especially if they are thinking of initially recruiting young trustees from their projects. All trustees, and specifically board chairs, have a responsibility to monitor and actively support new trustees as they learn, develop and progress in their roles. I met with my chair and the chief executive of Plan to discuss my first year, which was extremely valuable. With Leap I intend to do the same. I also had a mentor for my first year at Plan, which meant I had someone to confide in and also received guidance on some of the technical points that had been issues before my time.
Time management is also a considerable challenge. I’ve found saying ‘no’ to various requests for my time difficult. I’m not sure why I get asked to do so much, but experience tells me that it’s easy to get swamped in any organisation – especially when the work they’re doing is so exciting and important to you. There is also that feeling that you want to get it right and feel your advice would achieve that. Managing your time effectively is vital. I’ve written this blog on the bus.
If you’re not used to having your diary filled back-to-back with requests this can be hard to manage and one fears that saying ‘no’ means a lost opportunity. As a student I’ve found it particularly hard to manage my studies, paid employment, my trusteeships and my social life. Supporting myself has been difficult. I’ve chosen to prioritise my trusteeships over paid work, but not all young people are in a position to do that. I’ve been able to because of student finance. When I graduate next year I won’t be able to rely on student finance, and I’ll have to trim the time I spend on Plan and Leap out of necessity because I simply can’t afford it.
The key message is if you’re struggling you should always feel able to say no to any requests that demand your time and attention. It’s not selfish for you to make decisions that mean you can financially and mentally survive.