Tailor Me by Moss Bros – a welcome return to tailoring

Thirty years ago, in 1987, I entered the World’s oldest Air Force Academy – Royal Air Force College Cranwell – as an officer cadet.

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Royal Air Force College Cranwell

Those first few days were spent in a whirlwind of excitement and continuous movement as we cadets raced around the College being introduced to Officers’ Mess etiquette, medical examinations, the gym, the swimming pool, and most importantly being ‘kitted out’ in uniforms. In those days (and sadly no longer so) our Number 1 and Number 5 dress uniforms were made for us by external tailors. The College at Cranwell was home to three such tailors and one of our tasks in those hectic first few days was to visit each of the three tailors’ shops and decide who to award our uniform contract to.

After visiting all three I selected Moss Bros – at the time they offered a full shop at Cranwell, with not only uniforms but a range of civilian clothes and accessories. They had a long history of making uniforms for the military, especially the Royal Air Force.

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1940s Moss Bros Advert

Having been carefully measured for my two uniforms by a tailor (not a salesman) I also decided to have made my first ever Made to Measure (MTM) suit. One should remember as well in those heady days we cadets (and serving officers) were still required to ‘dress for dinner’ every night by wearing a suit, or at a minimum a jacket and tie. I selected a dark blue wool cloth for my suit and, 2 months later, became the proud owner of an extremely stylish suit – and my first experience of the exquisite pleasure of owning clothes which had been made to fit me, and me only. That suit lasted me over 15 years.

I was therefore delighted to recently step back inside a Moss Bros store for the first time in 30 years to find they have re-introduced a MTM service, called ‘Tailor Me’. 

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The process supporting Tailor Me is very similar to my Moss Bros experience from 30 years ago – the only real difference is one is now measured by a sales person rather than a professional tailor.

Tailor Me works best if you make an appointment in advance, simply because the whole process can take (and did in my case) up to one hour. I made my appointment for 11 am in the morning, knowing the store in my home town of Ipswich would unlikely be busy at that time of day, and the staff would be less distracted.

I have set out below the process in steps we followed:

  1. A discussion with the sales person concerning any special requirements, such as what the suit is for (work, wedding, special occasion etc), time of year the suit will be worn, type of fabric etc.
  2. A review of the fabric book. Unfortunately there are only 140 fabrics to choose from, even less if you discard the ghastly wool/polyester mix. I needed a dark blue suit, mainly for the spring/summer months, capable of travelling well (on trains and aeroplanes), lightweight, but with a subtle pattern to make it a little different from my other plain blue suits. This, of all the steps, took the longest – not because of the size of choice (which after the eliminations on non-blue and wool-mix fabrics was significantly reduced), but in trying to assess how the small fabric swatch would look on a larger suit frame. I narrowed the choice eventually to three fabrics and then took the fabric book out of the store and into real daylight to obtain a better sense of the pattern and how it reacted to light. I selected a dark blue fabric, with a subtle glen check in light blue. It was a Super 110, Reda, made in Italy.IMG_8154
  3. Style. There are three styles of Moss Bros suit cut to choose from – skinny, tailored and regular. I choose the regular.
  4. Sizing. Next one tries on a number of jackets in the chosen style (any fabric jacket will suffice) to find the ‘off the rack’ size closest to you. Mine was a 42. Important here is the fit of the shoulders and the chest. Some work was identified as necessary to ensure the jacket could be fastened without the lapels losing their flat drape. The same process is followed with trousers and in my case a waistcoat as I had opted for a three piece suit.
  5. Measuring. Now the careful part. Using a combination of the ‘off the rack’ suit and a tape measure measurements are recorded for the shoulder, arms (both arms are measured, especially as in my case where I have one arm slightly longer than the other), chest, waist, leg, inside leg, the drop from the shoulder to the waist for the waistcoat. I much admired the young lady taking my measurements, as she insisted on taking every measurement twice, and then cross-checking with a colleague.
  6. Individual style elements. Finally, comes the personalisation. I opted for a peak lapel (I did not own a single breasted suit with a peak lapel so felt I should personalise this one as such), slanted pockets, a ticket pocket, a half canvas construction (fused was an option through why anyone would make such a selection!), side fasteners on the trousers, no belt loops, a fish tail waistband at the back, no turn ups, working cuffs on the jacket. I also selected the colour and style of buttons and a rather bold lining to the jacket (and matching back panel to the waistcoat), the font and colour and stitching for my name which would be the only label on the inside of the jacket. I declined the option of having the lapel buttonhole and last working cuff button hole stitched in a contrasting colour to make them stand out (why would you do that?).
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    Peak lapel – the Glen check fabric
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    Loop stitched onto back of lapel
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    Slanted pockets
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    Working cuffs
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    Fish tail waistband
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    Lining and my name

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    Side fasteners
  7. Deposit. I double checked everything, signed the order, paid a deposit and left in just over one hour. It was an enjoyable experience, though I’m glad I have been studying style and classic mens’ clothing for the past years and understood enough to navigate myself through the process – it would be very easy to get carried away with the individualism!
  8. Collection/fitting. Exactly one month to the day the suit was ready. No appointment is needed for the collection, but fortunately the store manager was available when I arrived to oversee my trying on the suit – at this stage I am advised any additional tailoring needed is at no cost. My suit however was a perfect fit.
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Wearing my new suit on a recent business trip to Cascais, Portugal

Moss Bros charge £150 in addition to the cost of a suit in the fabric you select to cover the costs of the Tailor Me process. Frankly, this is extraordinary value for money – most suits in Moss Bros, assuming you select a quality fabric, cost about £250- £300 so the £150 to both personalise and guarantee a perfect fit is money well invested.

I loved my first experience of a perfect fitting suit in 1987 and, looking back, it was, combined with my tailored beautiful military uniforms, the beginning of my love affair with classic gentleman’s style. To be able to walk back into Moss Bros 30 years later and find I can still replicate a perfect fitting suit on the High Street at a affordable price brings much joy.

Moss Bros’ clientele seems to be younger than me, but there is an upside to this – judging by the number of suits now being produced through ‘Tailor Me’ in my local Moss Bros we may be seeing the beginning of an appreciation by younger men of perfect fitting clothes, which we more senior men already know is addictive!

Is there a link between slobbish behaviour and casual dress?

Following on from the recent strange decision by the Speaker of the House of Commons to allow MPs to discard ties in Parliament, you can probably imagine my joy when I read the headline ‘golfer wears a tie in the Open’. Perhaps, I thought, all is not lost in the declining sartorial state of the world. My joy was however short lived when I eventually found an image of the said golfer and his tie.

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I suppose it comes down to definitions. My definition of ‘wearing a tie’ is that the top button of the shirt is fastened and the tie is knotted appropriately – not slung at half mast around one’s neck. Why even put on a tie if you are going to disregard its relevance in such a way? Add to that not having shaved, and the hideously large logos and the ball cap – well.

This leads me to a growing hypothesis in my mind over the increasing ‘casualness’ in our society and its implications. Walking my dogs in the local park is increasingly disturbing as I have to witness endless trails and deposits of rubbish left behind by people picnicking or just sitting on the grass. Often this discarded pile of food wrappers, empty bottles and cans, are left on the grass less than 20 yards away from rubbish bins. Why do people today believe it is acceptable behaviour to just dump their waste and walk away – assuming someone will clean it up for them? Such rubbish attracts vermin, poisons and damages wildlife, and is a risk for small children and people’s pets. It says much about the slobbish manners of those who deposit it.

Is slobbish too strong a word?  The dictionary defines ‘slob’ as ‘a person who is lazy and has low standards of cleanliness’, so I would suggest it is the appropriate word to describe these people. But it is not just parks, rubbish is everywhere, anti-social behaviour is increasingly acceptable, rudeness is widespread. Why?

I suggest it can be increasingly linked to the decline in standards of dress.

G. Bruce Boyer recently addressed the matter in an article article about the “casual revolution” of society and the loss of sartorial occasions. He argues the term “casual” is considered obsolete as it can only be opposed to “formal”. Since “casual” has become dominant it is no longer “casual” but simply “normal”, or “ordinary”. When casual was unusual in public, suits were the norm. Now that suits are the exception, they are considered formal.

What is perhaps also concerning here in evolution terms is what will come to be the norm once ‘casual’ is seen as ‘formal’. There are already open disagreements over exactly what the boundaries of ‘casual’ are – recently whilst flying to the USA on BA in Club Class I could not help but notice the man across the aisle from me was dressed in a strangely logo’d t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops. He proceeded to walk about the aircraft in bare feet, displaying feet which had clearly never been near a pedicure – his feet were frankly disgusting to look at. I felt sorry for the flight attendants, smartly dressed in their uniforms, having to administer service to someone who I perceived as disrespectful to the surroundings he was in. But, I suspect, he would argue he was simply dressed in a ‘casual’ manner – casual used to mean clean trousers, a collared shirt and shoes and socks, not cargo shorts, bare feet and flip flops.

If we adopt such a casual disinterested approach to how we look surely that ultimately influences our attitudes and behaviour. Perhaps it is a stretch to label overly casual styles to slobbishness, but I am increasingly convinced our society is heading to a state of complete disrespect for traditions, culture, history which can only lead to an eventual breakdown in basic acceptable norms of civilised behaviour.

It is therefore time to take a stand, to refuse to be shamed or bullied into lowering our standards to the new ‘norm’ of slobbish behaviour. I for one will wear my suit and tie to work with pride, to dress in a casual style (when appropriate) respectful to those around me, to create a pleasing aesthetic (and never wear cargo shorts and flip flops). Heaven help my local MP if I ever spot him in the House of Commons without a tie – he has been warned!

‘Age is just a number’ – a book review

Recently wandering through the excellent Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street I came across a book which, having now finished reading it, I sense may be about to change my life! It is not often one has that experience with a book, so let me explain.

The book is titled ‘Age is just a number’ and the author is Charles Eugster, a dentist from England, now living in Switzerland. The subtitle is ‘What a 97-year-old recordbreaker can teach us about getting older’. At the age of 63, he took up competitive rowing. At 87, he took up bodybuilding. And at the age of 95, he started competitive sprinting for the first time in his life. He is now a world record-holding athlete. His book is part autobiography, and part inspirational in describing the steps, and the mental processes, he went through in achieving quite the most extraordinary physical accomplishments.

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He explains how, following a divorce in his 60s, he realised in our 50s and 60s we are at the pinnacle of entrepreneurial capacity and he therefore decided to establish a publishing business to publish newsletters about dentistry. He did not even consider the prospect of retirement until the age of 75, and then only because dexterity was becoming an issue with precision dental instruments. He remarried in his 70s and then was widowed at the age of 82.

There is no way to describe the following paragraph so I will just repeat it in full, because it is quite profound in it’s insight.

“In a modern world there is the less than attractive game we have been primed to expect, and that may well become a reality if you allow it to. I’m talking about old-age defined by frailty. Typically, such a day might begin with your carer opening the curtains and talking to you in loud, breezy but simplistic terms. They may help you sit up, assist you in a trip to the bathroom, dress and then feed you before settling you in the sunny spot in the common room. Nobody talks very much. By and large your fellow care home residents seem to inhabit their own memories. Still, you could always look forward to lunch. As long as it smashed to a pulp you shouldn’t have any difficulties. There is also visiting time in the afternoon. If you’re lucky, a relative might pop in to see you, but they have busy lives to lead so they won’t stay long. After that, you can expect a light supper and bed, before this daily routine repeats until those curtains close for good. I’m sure you’ll agree, this is not exactly a wonderful life scenario, and yet we have been conditioned to head towards this broken, dispiriting outcome as if we have no option.”

Charles explains, using his research into many medical and nutritional journals, how from the age of 50 we begin to lose muscle and increase fat. Although he was rowing nearly 6 days a week he didn’t feel he had the capacity to continue to pull the oar satisfactorily. He felt flabby. So, at the age of 87 he set out to lose the flab and acquire the muscle that many people assume to be an impossible task. In an amusing section in the book he explains how he went to a gym and told the instructor that he wanted a beach body, “There are beautiful 70-year-old girls out there,” he said, “I’d like to turn their heads.”

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He went to the gym three times a week, and improved his diet by cutting out fatty, salty and sweet items and just reducing the size of portions on his plate. He made significant improvements and then, at the age of 89 he met a former gymnast who introduced him to a combination of exercises to increase his muscle size by exercising them in groups. Building on his previous work in the gym he now started working on squats, crunches, chin-ups, push-ups, pullups, thrusts and lunges.

In summary, he worked all the various muscle groups in his body through repetition and resistance to the point of exhaustion, and then kept repeating them until he reached exhausted again. He combined this with protein supplements and amino acids and began to feel much stronger and better than he had ever done in his life. At the extraordinary age of 90 he goes on to describe how he took up competitive sprinting!

So why has this book changed my life? Here I am at the age of 56, last year I was able to take part in a charitable 10k road run in 54 minutes. I’ve barely had a sick day in my entire working life, and would consider myself to be in good health. My military background clearly helped, where the early emphasis on physical exercise gave me a good foundation for life (I ran my first marathon in four hours 20 minutes when I was 45, and then a half marathon at the age of 53 in one hour 58 minutes).

But, recently I have not been enjoying my sleep, I find it hard to wind down, I rarely take the time to visit the gym, and I may be lucky if I run once every few weeks. I have certainly gained over 15 lbs in the last four years. My interest now is how to re-develop the motivation to re-build and then maintain my physical and mental health. I can’t even contemplate the thought of retiring and not having any kind of physical or mental stimulus.

So I have set myself a challenge, what if I establish Charles’ foundations in excellent muscular tone and robust fitness in my 50s, rather than starting to reach that point in my 80s. Will that, with an increasingly entrepreneurial mind-stretching activities through by charitable work, in addition to pushing myself creatively in my paid employment, enable me to enjoy the next 40 or even 50 years in a high state of physical and mental well-being?

I am now two weeks into my new plan. I have decided that going to the gym, and going for a run, and exercising at home, are the priority. Each of these requires self-discipline, and acceptance that it is hard work, it is certainly not easy to find the time to undertake these activities, and then when undertaking them to push oneself to the physical limits. But I have begun, and am slowly making progress in making exercise the priority. And, looking back at the first two weeks, I’m beginning to notice some differences. My arms and shoulders are showing signs of definition, I have lost an inch off my waist, I’m sleeping soundly for the first time in months. My energy levels have increased. I do still have a long way to go with improving my diet as I’m still enjoying my wine and spirits and chocolate far too much! So although after two weeks I’ve only lost 2 pounds in weight, my body is beginning to change shape.

I have also committed to writing more regularly in this blog, but in a manner which forces me to conduct research and provide where possible evidence based writing for the readers. I have also agreed to accept an offer to join the faculty of a university in California to help them build the curriculum for an ethical leadership course. At some stage in the next few years I intend to study a second language, perhaps Spanish. So, plenty of mental stimulus as well as physical.

Anyway, life changing the book certainly has been, I am enjoying pushing myself physically and mentally and re-developing the self control and self discipline needed to work hard in the gym and whilst out running. I will write again on a regular basis with updates on the progress, the good and the bad, on this project. I hope you will find it inspiring.

How I became one of the best dressed men at Newmarket Races

In the space of just a few minutes yesterday I went from casual ‘punter’ at the Races to being faced by a media scrum (for the first time in my life!). They all wanted to take my photograph. But why?

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The third Friday of July is one of my favourite days of the year. My wife and I travel the short 55 minute train journey from home in Ipswich to Newmarket to attend the July festival of horse racing. We enjoy a leisurely two hour lunch in the excellent Mozart’s in the Premier Enclosure and then head the finish line on the course and watch the 6 races thunder by. A modest wager on each race is necessary, and we traditionally win one or two of those – certainly enough to cover all the wagers of the day!

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Yesterday, upon entering the race course, a young lady asked if I would like to be photographed for the ‘Most Stylish Man of the Day’ award. Amused, and naturally a little flattered, I agreed. This was just before 12 pm. I then forgot all about it. Four hours later I received a text message informing me I had been selected in the top 10 (out of over 300 entrants) and should report to the main marquee!

Here I am, along with mainly very young men, a preponderance of exposed ankles and no socks, beards, unshaved faces, sunglasses (worn indoors), skinny trousers, and poorly fitting jackets. There was even a young man, as bemused as me, who was wearing his Father’s old Savile Row tweed suit which he had tailored to fit him, (and he was wearing socks!

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Interestingly the gentleman on my left in the above photograph (now in his 60s) had also arrived at the races not knowing about this competition and had dressed as individualistically as he always does! After a degree of standing around being assessed and interviewed the final three were announced – I came third. It was hilarious to me to win a range of prizes for being dressed the way I normally do!! My prizes included a bespoke shirt (worth £125), two tickets to Aintree Races, some products, two tickets to a Football Match and a few other items. And then the media scrum – cameras, journalists, questions. It was rather fun!

The 2nd and 1st young men were charming, but at least 30 years younger than me!

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When I met one of the judges later she told me the key piece of my wardrobe which caught the judges’ attention were my trousers – they loved the drape, the cut, the classic look. I felt validated in my love of the classic 1920/30 look – that golden era will never be out of style (my blog article on these trousers is here). Is it too much to hope we are perhaps finally seeing the end of the skinny trouser?

 

 

How to re-create classic summer trousers

I made a conscious commitment to myself last year to acquire less clothes and accessories this year, and focus instead upon building a classic foundation to my wardrobe. I have long admired the style of the 1920, 1930s – the so-called “golden era” of men’s fashion – so I naturally turn to this period for inspiration, using the many photographs and images available online. In particular I have collected a significant number of drawings made by Laurence Fellows – one section of my Pinterest account is principally dedicated to this collection. Looking through this growing array of beautiful images one of the more consistent and prevalent styles of the era is the loose fit, doubled front pleats, with turn ups (cuffs in America) cream (think vintage cricket flannels) or white trousers. The acquisition of these has been the foundation item I have focused on this summer.

Finding such trousers today, especially in the awful world of the “skinny’ or ‘slim’ fit has however proved very challenging. There is no shortage of cotton chino or linen versions in the cream or white tone (but without the turn-ups), but the drape and hang of cotton and linen material lacks the essential elegance I was looking to replicate.

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The great Cary Grant

Eventually I decided my only option would be to commission a pair and have them made. Before you, dear reader, think I have suddenly moved out of the modest financial comfort zone of this blog and into the rarefied world of bespoke clothing, do not worry. I sourced them from a tailor I have used several times, one who is generally accessible to many of you – Raja Fashions from Hong Kong.

This traveling tailoring service became extremely helpful. You make an appointment on-line through their website – the tailor visits most major centres of many countries every few months (ideal often for a second fitting) and takes up residence in a hotel suite. An appointment lasts for up to one hour.

I explained to the tailor I was looking for a classic 1920/30s style, reminiscent of early cricket/ tennis trousers, and that I needed them in a light weight fabric for the summer months. I even showed him some Laurence Fellows images. He searched through his many fabric books and swabs and eventually found a very light weight wool fabric in white and a cream tone. So light was the fabric it was almost transparent but the tailor explained a full lining would be required, and it would also help with the drape. The lining would not create any difficulties for the breathability of the wool fabric. Both colours – the white and the cream – looked exactly the classic and vintage style I was seeking, so much so I could not make up my mind! The price per pair was also very reasonable and, after he offered a special reduced price if I purchased two pairs, I eventually decided to opt for a pair of each! The tailor then also had a book of designs, which included the exact style I needed.

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The style option at Raja Fashions

Measurements were taken and, three weeks later, my two pairs of trousers arrived by FedEx. They are magnificent – if that is not too strong enough word to describe the humble trouser! These classic fit trousers will last many years. I have been occasionally accused of living in the past – but sometimes the past has the perfect answer, in this case a relaxed fit, easy to wear throughout the Summer months, breathable, roomy (allowing air to circulate), so why try reinvent the wheel?

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Wearing the cream trousers at Newmarket Races

My friends at Raja Fashions have enabled a contemporary solution to be found for a vintage re-birth of a great men’s trouser!

At what point in a crisis does a leader have to make the decision to resign?

I can still remember with some vividety the Falklands War of 1982. I was in my very early twenties when it happened. I recall the shock, the chaos, the emerging pride in the armed forces as a task force was assembled with incredible speed, and then the tension of the next few months until the war was over and then a feeling that the United Kingdom had become great again. What I also remember very clearly is the resignation of the Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, which happened within days of the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. I have been reflecting on this swift, very high profile, resignation over the past few days, particularly in light of the Grenfell Tower block fire and tragedy.

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The Grenfell tragedy has highlighted an interesting leadership situation. We have seen HM The Queen visit the victims and survivors, the Mayor of London attend the scene, the Prime Minister form a task force to manage the post-crisis situation (as well as visit the scene), and local councillors and officials from Kensington and Chelsea Council attempt to manage the crisis on-site. Even the opposition party has become involved by attempting to score political points from the tragedy. To a lay person you could forgive them for feeling confused as to who is ultimately in charge and leading in the post-tragedy environment. In a way this leads to the growing sense of public frustration and is ammunition for the mainstream media and social media commentators to create and maintain a feverish state of angst and calling for those responsible to be held to account before any realistic inquiry findings could be published.

In the past 48 hours the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council has now resigned – the first person in these many layers of involvement to do so. But, this is 11 days after the tragedy. Was he right to resign? Indeed, when is it appropriate for a leader to resign in a crisis?

The true test of a leader is how they handle problems and take action. Unfortunately, despite training and practice, no one in a leadership position really knows how they will perform in a crisis, and it is often a case of ‘baptism by fire’. Inevitably some leaders do not perform when the pressure is on, and it is, in my view, appropriate that they should step aside and accept their own limitations. It can be a very sobering moment of self-reflection.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Harvard Business Review June 2, 2014, ‘When to Resign, and When to Clean Up the Mess’) concluded ‘Cleaning up a mess requires strong will, fast action, new approaches, and a lot of credibility. One resignation doesn’t restore trust, but it opens the door for someone who can’.

A problem/crisis will normally see a leader move through 3 stages of performance and decision:

1) Did they cause, or know in advance about, the problem? One-off problems will always arise, but is this a widespread systemic problem?  Do they therefore believe they are best placed to manage it?

2) Are they able to rely on the confidence and trust of those around them?

3) Once managing it begins are they able to cope? Does their performance (or lack of) become the story?

I would advocate in (1) a leader should resign – it will lead to (2), and you cannot lead without followers. In the case of (3) once your performance (poor) becomes the story you must resign. In the case of the leader of the Council he was found sadly lacking in any of the leadership skills necessary to manage the tragedy (notwithstanding I am sure he was competent as an administrator in his day-to-day role), and those took some time to emerge – the delay in his reaching the decision to resign made him the story, and with no choice but to go.

The opposite of course to all of this are those leaders who rise to the challenge and are superb are managing problems and crisis. They understand it is how the problem/crisis is managed – communications, timing, accountability and above all their displays of compassion. Unfortunately today we too often find a sense of self-first where leaders appear more interested in keeping their jobs than solving the problem. It doesn’t take courage to self-reflect and make a judgment on behalf the greater needs of the mission, it should in fact be second nature in a not-for-profit world where values-based leadership qualities are so important.

Returning to Lord Carrington, he took immediate full responsibility for the complacency and failures in the Foreign And Commonwealth Office, and in his resignation letter to the Prime Minister said “….the right course, and one which deserves the undivided support of Parliament and of the country. But I have concluded with regret that this support will more easily be maintained if the Foreign Office is entrusted to someone else.” Lord Carrington felt that ”it was a matter of honour that he should go.”

And his story is one worth keeping in mind as a leader. His resignation was not the end of his career. He stepped aside for the greater need of the nation and the mission – yet, two years later, he was appointed Secretary General of NATO, and went on to hold a number of distinguished positions. He remains the longest serving member of the House of Lords. The word honour sadly is often looked as anachronistic in today’s society, but the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right is one of the great foundations of life, as those of us fortunate enough to have been instructed as such at School and as military officers know too well. Lord Carrington displayed such honour and courage, and his reputation remained intact. I’m not so sure the leaders of the Grenfell tragedy will emerge in the same manner.

 

The Power of Collective Responsibility – Trustee Decisions

I recently heard of an interesting situation with a Chair of a Board of Trustees not understanding the concept of collective responsibility. Surely, I asked myself, everyone who serves as a Trustee knows this basic principle – I therefore set out to conduct some simple research by asking colleagues and was surprised to find how many thought collective responsibility was an optional element of decision making!
The situation I encountered is an interesting example of this. It arose when the Chair apparently wished to take a certain course of action but the Board executive committee wished a different course. Having failed to reach consensus it was agreed the two opposing views would be presented to the full board for a decision. The Chair believed if his course was not followed there would be many serious repercussions – a form of ‘project fear’ began! Shortly before the board meeting the Chair, when circulating the agenda and the two opposing papers, declared that the minutes of the meeting would list all the Trustees and how they voted on the issue. Some Trustees viewed this as intimidation. When challenged during the meeting to justify the decision to record names the Chair stated it was an opportunity for at a later stage (assuming he lost the vote and all his fears came true of problems) those who lost the vote (himself included) to respond to external criticism by saying it was not their fault because they voted against it.
The Chair was challenged by some Trustees over collective responsibility – he indicated he understood the principle, but claimed it did not apply if one states in the minutes you did not support the relevant decision. Extraordinary.
The power of the concept of collective responsibility should not be, in my view, under estimated. It helps brings a board together, it encourages open and free debate, it ensures decisions made (especially the very difficult ones) are robust and can stand up to scrutiny.
For those of you unfamiliar with the guidelines for collective decisions I have set out the basic principles below:
  • It is a legal requirement that all Trustees have a duty to make decisions ‘collectively’ (jointly). It does not usually mean that the Trustees must all agree, or that a decision can only be made if every Trustee takes part.
  • Once a decision has been made, all Trustees must support, abide by,  and carry out that decision.
  • An absent Trustee will still share responsibility for the decision that the other Trustees made.
  • If a Trustee strongly disagrees with a decision, they can ask for their disagreement to be recorded in the minutes. Even if a Trustee asks for their disagreement with a decision to be recorded, they will still, under the principle of collective responsibility, be held jointly responsible.
  • A Trustee might feel so strongly that a decision is not in the interests of the charity that they have no choice but to resign.
Sources: Charity Commission For England and Wales: Guidance ‘It’s your decision: charity trustees and decision making (CC27)