Andrew McCracken

Chief Executive - Community Foundation for Northern Ireland

Tell us a bit about your role?

I lead the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, which exists to connect people who care to causes that matter. We help people who want to give money away in Northern Ireland to ensure they’re doing it well.

That means I lead a talented team of staff who are well connected in the charity world, and in the world of donors and funders; and help them bring those worlds together.

What are the biggest issues facing leaders today?

Sifting insight from information; building trust within teams; maintaining hope that things can change.

On information – there’s more and more data being thrown at us and I’m always worried about ‘what does it mean?’ and resisting the temptation to settle for the oversimplified answers to that. A leader’s challenge is to identify insights that help us lead and that’s hard.

On trust – this is an eternal problem for leaders but always vital. If our teams don’t trust each other, or us, they won’t perform. I try hard to set aside time for my team to listen to each other about what is really on their minds – personal and professional – I find this helps reduce the temptation to be always questioning each others motives.

And on hope – particularly in organisations that are serving society or seeking social change it is too easy to become cynical. It’s critical for me as a leader to manage myself so I can believe that change is possible. That could be by attending inspiring conferences; connecting with the stories of where things are working; or just making sure I’ve had enough sleep!

As organisations get larger there’s often a tendency toward dampening inspiration. How do you encourage creative thinking within your business?

I really value innovation and creativity and I like asking how we can do things differently, but I’m rarely the person who actually knows the answer to that question! I try and give some space and profile to the folk who have new ideas and resist the temptation to leap in and control them – that both encourages innovation and helps people see that creativity is celebrated.

If you had to name three characteristics of great leaders what would they be?

Vulnerability, focus, compassion.

What advice would you give someone going into leadership position for the first time?

It doesn’t all depend on you. Your job is to map out the space for others to fill; don’t try and fill it all yourself.

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