Boris Pomroy is CEO of Mentor. You may have seen his excellent Twitter thread about what he has learned from his first 6 months in role. We were thrilled to interview Boris and ask him more about what he has learned as a leader.  

  1. We loved your thread on your first 6 months as a leader. In the thread you talked about how important decision making is (‘Look at the data. Listen to views. Make a call and move on.’) What can charity leaders do to create the headspace to make good decisions, when there are so many calls on their time? 

Thanks! It was one of those mornings where I couldn’t settle down to anything so I found myself on twitter. I was amazed at the response and how many people seemed to resonate with it.

I feel like a ‘real’ leader would say something along the lines of ‘ I get up at 5am, make myself a smoothie of freshly mown grass and then meditate for an hour before running a marathon whilst simultaneously securing three donations of a £1million plus’. Sadly this isn’t me!

The truth is it’s hard. I have to constantly work at it and adapt it to what else is going on in my life. It will always be a work in progress. If I was going to pick three things though it would be:

  • Commit time to it, put  it in your diary and protect it like you would an external meeting. Most mornings I go to the RSA before I go into the office. It gives me the headspace I need to read, reflect and plan. It also has the added bonus that by the time I get to the office I’ve already ticked off one or two things from my to-do list which means – even if I have to be reactive for the rest of the day – I feel like I’ve achieved something.
  • Trust your team to do their jobs brilliantly. That way you are less likely to find yourself feeling the need to do that job yourself. Ask yourself why you’re being asked to make a decision. Are you really best placed to make it or is it because someone else would rather not make it themselves? Encourage the team to take ownership of what they are doing, even if sometimes it means they make mistakes – in the long term it’s better for you, for them and for the organisation. If for any reason you don’t have that trust then ask yourself why and rectify it.
  • Don’t be afraid to take your time. I know this is counter-intuitive given the question but taking the time to make the right decision at the outset may well save you a lot of pain in future. Despite the constant voice in my head saying otherwise, no-one expects us to be able to make brilliant snap decisions all the time (and if they do, I refer you to point 2 above). Read and listen to everything, then if you need to give yourself time to reflect, do so. Just make sure people know that is what you are doing and when they might expect a decision – then stick to it.

If I have space to add a fourth it would be, don’t make big decisions when you are in a bad mood and/or a rush. It never turns out well!

  1. You also talked about how invaluable networks are to leaders. Which digital networks have you found most helpful and why? 

I am twitter obsessed! When I first started on it in 2009, it was very much a personal account. A place to chat about what was going on in the news and catch-up with like-minded people. Over time it has inevitably ended up more mixed. I now follow a lot of other charity people (I am much more a follower of people rather than organisations) and really enjoy finding out what they’ve been up to and celebrating/commiserating together. I love it because I can go on there, say I’m having a bad day and someone will always be there to support you. It’s also a great place for picking up on stories, blogs, news articles etc. – allowing me to sound much better read than I actually am!

At work we recently started using Workplace by Facebook, which I really love. As a small organisation with an office in London, another in Scotland plus staff out and about working with young people in the community, communication can be really tough. Workplace helps bring us all together – from my weekly Monday morning email, through to videos of our brilliant youth workers flossing with Nicola Sturgeon. It means that, even though we don’t meet up very often we still feel like we are a team. Linked to this we also use an online project management and collaboration tool called Mondays – again it is all about us sharing more, being transparent and holding each other to account.

  1. It was great to see the points you made about how leaders need to talk about mental health. What can leaders do to protect this when they are so in demand? 

Well you are certainly asking the big questions! I’ve thought about this for a long-time and I’ve certainly had periods where my mental health has been fragile, broken even. My old boss, Sarah (Whiting – Fundraising Director at Hope and Homes for Children) used to repeat the same phrase to me over and over again – ‘Be kind to yourself’. It’s probably fair to say that I ignored it most of the time and ended up causing myself a lot of pain as a result.

So my advice? Be kind to yourself. And recognise that, far from being selfish, it is probably the single most important thing you can do as a leader. Not only because you’ll be a better, more supportive, more engaged colleague, friend and boss, but also because you will set an expectation that others should be kind to themselves too.

Everyone has to work out what this looks like for them. But for me, it means creating space at the start and end of each day to gather my thoughts, reflect and plan. Having joy in my life and sharing those moments with my family and friends. Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising (all of which I am bloody awful at!).  And, most of all, recognising I’ve chosen this life and, despite the challenges it brings, I love it. But it is a work in progress and some days can be really tough – in these moments it is about being honest, giving myself permission to walk away for a few minutes, get some air and share how I am feeling with someone. I also try and be honest about how I am feeling with my team – as I want them to feel like they can do the same.

  1. How has digital helped you as a leader, and how will you and your charity be using it in 2019? 

On a personal level digital is just part of my life, whether it’s Alexa giving me a rundown of my day whilst I am gulping down a coffee before heading to work, recording my expenses, catching up on the latest news or staying in touch with friends and colleagues. What I have noticed (and I know it is obvious) is that whilst it can provide tools and networks to support you, it can’t create more time and space in your day – that is still very much down to you.

As for Mentor, we are still very much at the start of our digital journey. We are currently doing a lot to digitise our internal systems, CRM, finance, operations etc to make them more efficient – and this will accelerate over the course of the year. Our mission is to be a trusted voice in young people’s lives, sharing knowledge on drugs and helping them to build the skills and self-confidence to make positive choices as they grow up. This will only happen when we get better at inviting these young people in to be part of what we do, using their energy and experiences to help us shape our programmes, policy and strategic direction. Digital has to be central to this. So, we’ll be doing all the normal stuff – new website, improving our social output etc etc. But we will be investing the most time and energy into ways that actively add voice and power to those that matter most – our beneficiaries. What this looks like, I don’t know yet, but I am excited about finding out!