Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive officer of the Multiple Sclerosis Society takes the time to talk to Ruby Bayley-Pratt, a Charityworks trainee currently working at the charity as a Programme Officer. Michelle talks openly about what it’s really like to be a CEO for a large charity, her inspirations and motivations and her future goals.
I think one of the reasons people join the charitable sector, and why I have done personally, is because they’re driven by a very clear sense of purpose and wanting to change the world for the better. What I’ve tended to do is really follow the things that I’m passionate about, purposeful about and interested in and have generally worked very hard to achieve the most I possibly can with great people. I’m certainly not someone who had a plan to be CEO.
I think it can be a very lonely role. I wake up and the second thing I think about after having fed my kids is the income we have to raise to make a positive change for people with MS. It doesn’t leave you.
You’ve got to choose this kind of lifestyle and role with care and a true understanding of what you want from your own life, and the kind of trade-offs that come with giving such a huge part of yourself. Not just in terms of your time, but your energy and your focus. To have the privilege to serve at this level is one you do wholeheartedly. You’ve got to be sure about who you are and take care of your own health; eating well, exercising, sleeping well, making time for family and friends. Ensuring you have well-being is really important.
For me, being a leader is a combination of being very clear on how you want to go about changing the world, working really hard and inspiring and collaborating with people to make that vision a reality. It’s crucial we move away from hierarchy and status and lead through collaboration.
I believe that leadership exists at every level. I consistently learn from people of all ages and all experiences. I know people who are 95 who want to change the world, my 6 year old son and 7 year old daughter have views about how they want to change the world. I’m inspired by that.
We need to understand that the strength of our organisation or our movement is in our people; our supporters, our volunteers, our staff and create a culture where they are inspired to give their best. The renewable energy you can get from people is incredible. It’s through the potential of people that you achieve massive social change and create things that you thought weren’t possible before.
I value people who have a purpose, have an opinion, who are willing to take risks, who are open to learning and ultimately, who work very, very hard. Usually these qualities are stronger indicators than people’s education, qualifications or years of working. In many instances, it’s people with that attitude that really go on to excel in organisations.
“There isn’t an ultimate destination. Ask yourself, what’s the social change you want to affect?”
In terms of the future, I have a huge job to do now. I’ve got a contribution to make which is valuable and I’m really interested in what I’m doing. I’m here, I’m now, I’m committed and I imagine that if I do go on to do something different in the future it will be because I feel I have a contribution to make elsewhere. I very much live in the day to day, I don’t plan my life. I follow things which interest me, I regularly keep my skills up to date, I am in contact with many different communities of interest and that always keeps you fresh and engaged with change that’s happening. It’s about being interested in the world.
There isn’t an ultimate destination. Ask yourself, what’s the social change you want to affect? You can do that by going to your local school and helping kids read, running a football team, setting up a community café. How you change the world doesn’t always come through position. I believe you can change the world in many ways, big or small.