Lessons on leadership learnt from being a Trustee

The Liberty Guild’s Aimee Luther shares how being a charity Trustee has informed her leadership style

Aimee Luther

Managing Director The Liberty Guild


In 2006, I received a rather unexpected invitation that would eventually lead me into the world of Trusteeship. At the tender age of 28, I found myself stepping into a role typically reserved for those further along in their careers.

This unorthodox journey is worth sharing not to boast but because BITE saw it as a valuable story for learning.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) was originally an NHS pilot, set up in 1997 in response to the concerning gender bias in young person suicide statistics.  Alarmingly, men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women.  In 2000, I started as a Graduate Trainee at Ogilvy & Mather where I was fortunate enough to work on the Government comms business - and therefore CALM.

Seven years later, when Government funding for CALM ran dry, the tenacious founder and then-CEO, Jane Powell, decided not to let politics put lives at risk, and register CALM as a charity and graciously invited me to join the Board as a Founding Trustee.

This moment marked a considerable challenge, probably the most significant one in my career up to that point. Yet, it was an experience that bestowed upon me invaluable lessons in leadership, lessons that would come to shape my future career.

My journey as a Trustee has been a humbling source of both personal and professional growth, offering insights that resonate within both my charitable endeavours and my career.

Aimee Luther, MD at The Liberty Guild

Since that first foray into Trusteeship, I've ventured into two more Board roles: one as a Founding Trustee for the Langa Township Pre-school Trust (LTPT), focused on setting up pre-schools in the Cape Town township, allowing their parents to work and in turn, break the cycle of poverty.   My third role is as Board Advisor to Words Matter, a charity launching later this month with the aim of eradicating verbal abuse against children.

Every Trusteeship brings its unique set of lessons, but there are common threads that connect this role to the dynamics of agency life; 

  1. A Sense of Purpose: Being a Trustee underscores the importance of truly championing an organisation's mission. Whether it's the mission of preventing young male suicides at CALM or advocating for selling ideas instead of hours at The Liberty Guild, the genuine commitment and passion in the purpose transcends any MBA or internal training. 
  2. Balance Amidst Change: Navigating a charity's legal and financial responsibilities teaches the delicate art of maintaining stability whilst embracing change. It reinforces the need for continuous evolution while staying true to the organisation's vision and mission. 
  3. Grasping Responsibility:  It becomes evident that your day-to-day actions can significantly impact people’s lives, for better or worse. Every decision, every conversation, and every rallying cry can shape someone's health, happiness and life beyond the workplace – a lesson that some leaders take years to grasp, if they ever do. 
  4. Strategic Vision: As you advance in your career, the shift from hands-on tasks to strategic thinking becomes evident. The balance tips from running around ‘doing the do’ to thinking.  Thinking about making things better, making better things and thinking about things that haven’t even been thought about yet. Trustees need to adopt a similar forward-thinking approach, akin to senior leadership, albeit without the luxury of an extended learning curve. 
    1. Mitigating Risks: In the world of charities, risks loom larger because lives will be directly impacted.  If CALM falters, more men potentially take their own lives. If the Langa Townships stopped running the pre-schools tomorrow, 500 kids a day would miss out on warm food and shelter. There is a constant need to offer stability and evolution, to innovate and monitor against risk. Back to CALM, the original mission was to tell the nation about the enormity of the problem – your son was more likely to take his own life than die by any other means -  and to get the helpline number into every young man’s back pocket. But to do that in a way that averts risk. On charity budgets. You only have one chance, so you have to get it right. This really brings the focus when creating the campaign idea and driving it through. Sometimes, I think more people, both agency and client side, should be Trustees. 
  5. Ethical Leadership: Trusteeship instils a profound sense of duty and responsibility, fostering ethical leadership. Sometimes, leaders climb a greasy pole and don’t consider the responsibility they have to the people they work with, alongside, and for. There is a very sharp focus on charity and a very emotional part of it. Your eyes are forced to be open, to look around you and look at the impact your role is having on your problem - and, importantly, the people you are working with. 
  6. Unity and Inspiration: Heartwarmingly, though, the biggest lesson I learned from being a Trustee was that it gave me hope and showed me the power of people united. How a small group of people can move the dial when focused on the same goal and genuinely impact people’s lives.

And so, my journey as a Trustee has been a humbling source of both personal and professional growth, offering insights that resonate within both my charitable endeavours and my career. It has highlighted the profound significance of purpose, the delicate dance between continuity and change, the weight of responsibility, the transition to strategic thinking, the art of risk management, the call for ethical leadership, and the undeniable influence of collective effort.

Guest Author

Aimee Luther

Managing Director The Liberty Guild


Aimee is Managing Director at The Liberty Guild. The Liberty Guild is an invitation-only curated association of the finest communication practitioners in the world.

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