I sent the news that Changing Faces is now searching for my successor as Chief Executive to an old friend who was kind in her response – and added, tellingly, “you originally said you’d step down after 10 years and so it’s about time 😜”.
Which is true. I did indeed say that at the outset in 1992 – a very long time ago! But I added a rider in the discussion with my trustees: “if you think I’ve done a good job, maybe it’s time I handed it on… or if you don’t think I’ve done a good job, it’s probably time for change.”
As it is, I have ‘gone on’ for 24 years and counting. And there are, I’m sure, those who will say I should have gone years ago but others have flattered me – ‘irreplaceable’ and ‘big shoes to fill’. I’m proud of what we have achieved since the tiny seed of the charity was sown way back then. There have been some amazing highs and breakthroughs and quite a few lows too.
So why now? Three reasons come to mind.
First, in an era when the intense cultural focus on appearance is adding to the stigmatising that so many people with disfigurements have to live with and confront and in these uncertain and austere economic times when philanthropy is challenged, leading Changing Faces involves handling a very big agenda. It has been ever thus but I know that it has needed every ounce of my energy and every hour of my life over the past 24 years to sustain our efforts to support and advocate for people with disfigurements and their families. It is essential that we try to find someone who can lead the charity and the cause in a very modern and energetic way through the next phase of its journey.
Second, ‘founder syndrome’ is a challenge for all organisations that have come from entrepreneurial – or in my case, social entrepreneurial – instincts and I have seen and known many founders over the years, many struggling with their succession. My trustees and I have worked hard to evolve a plan and now, with David Clayton’s hand on the tiller as Chair, and with the backing of our donors and supporters, the time is right to instigate that plan.
We are all agreed that the search should start and that I should step aside getting out of the eye line and earshot of my successor but being available to help, advise or support on advocacy, campaigning, income generation or any other issue. And I should also commit to a major research project which has needed doing for years. I am not going to say more about that at this time – but, suffice to say, I’m excited about the prospect.
Third, like some or many founders, I know that I may not have all the skills needed to sustain and develop a ‘young adult’ organisation like Changing Faces. Whilst our (my) drive, passion and commitment to finding a way through difficulties and problems may have got the organisation through its formative years, the leadership demands of consolidating and growing a multi-pronged organisation (probably) require different skills. One or two founders I know have been asked to leave – and I really do not wish to get to that point!
So some good reasons… and the timing could be good too in that, if the right person can be found, we can mark Changing Faces’ 25th year in 2017 partly by reflecting on what has been achieved during my watch but also by looking to the challenges ahead.
There’s no perfect time for founders to pass the baton but I aim to do so at Changing Faces as seamlessly as possible and to maximum effect. It will be odd ‘passing it on’ when there is still so much to do but I’m not going to cease to be involved. Ever, I suspect!
Dr James Partridge OBE is Chief Executive of Changing Faces. Viewpoint represents the views of the author and not necessarily of Changing Faces, its staff or trustees.
This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of Viewpoint, Changing Faces’ monthly email for supporters. Sign up here.