hand up from the sea holding a sparkler

Talking leadership: new perspectives on what the future holds for leadership in the social sector

Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Clore Social Leadership, shares some of the findings of the organisation’s Talking Leadership report. 

For months now, every news and social media channel has been fixated on an endless cycle of questions around leadership: on the crisis of leadership in this country; on how the different models of leadership on offer across the political spectrum point to evidence of an increasingly divided society; and how our assumptions around what constitutes good leadership are being rewritten.

These debates present an interesting challenge to the social sector – what are the parallels for how leadership is perceived in our sector; what role can we play in finding common ground to unite the divisions in our society; and how can we inspire a new generation of leaders who can tackle the social challenges that lie ahead?

In our new report Talking Leadership, published last week, Clore Social Leadership spoke to over 50 CEOs and senior leaders from charities and other organisations. We wanted to find out their views on leadership in the social sector and what their ideas were for how leadership development could help inspire generous and collaborative social leaders of the future.

They told us emphatically that effective leadership development is essential for creating the skills and relationships needed to address complex social challenges and forge a strong and effective social sector. Our conversations highlighted the belief that leadership development should be available to everyone – and not just those at the top.

In our series of research reports on leadership published in 2016, the three principal barriers to leadership development were identified as cost, time and confusion. Three years on, it is clear that those same barriers still exist.

Charity leaders told us there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the meaning of leadership and leadership development. The benefits and value of leadership development are poorly understood and articulated, particularly for organisations or their beneficiaries. It is difficult for individuals to understand their leadership development needs, what opportunities exist, or how to access them.

There is concern about how much it costs and the benefit and value it brings. And in these troubled times, and with a growing burden on providing more services for less resource, there is little time for it. It is also particularly difficult for individuals to navigate the wide variety of leadership programmes on offer, and it can be challenging for organisations outside major urban areas to access them.

Despite this context of uncertainty and scarcity, it may surprise you, then, that the overwhelming message that rings out from the interviews is one of abundance. A striking insight arising from our conversations is that there is an abundance of untapped potential for leadership development within the sector. Our interviewees highlighted examples of inspirational leadership development taking place right across the sector. We heard from senior leaders working with ingenuity to develop the leadership capabilities of their teams. In many cases, this involves utilising inexpensive and/or free options for leadership development, such as peer learning, mentoring and informal networks or action learning sets – and generously sharing their skills and expertise with others.

The leaders we spoke to made strong pleas for more accessible leadership development. There is a clear desire to create more opportunities to learn from others through peer-to-peer learning, shadowing and secondments, mentoring and to create dialogue, learning and action on leadership across the sector.

What was particularly striking in the interviews I undertook was just how powerfully and emotively people spoke about their own leadership journeys. The message they told me echoes what I hear time and time again talking to our Clore Social Fellows – of that seminal ‘switch on’ moment when they step into their leadership role and how they can never go back to their old self.

The message of abundance, for a sector that is so used to thinking about leadership development in the context of scarcity and resource constraints, presents an exciting opportunity for us to take a creative and innovative approach to support leadership development.

As a sector, we need to tackle this challenge head-on and explore new ways of developing the millions of leaders that are working within organisations across the sector; help individuals access appropriate development at different stages throughout their careers and identify opportunities for them to learn from and share their skills with others.

At Clore Social we have some exciting new developments which we are looking forward to sharing with the sector. We will be developing a new ‘innovation lab’ to design and test different solutions for supporting leadership development across the sector; identifying ways to harness the untapped potential we’ve identified through this report, and working alongside our colleagues in the sector to help build a generation of inspirational social leaders for the future. I look forward to sharing more with you on this in the coming months.

Read more information about the report, and download it here

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash – hand up from the sea holding a sparkler

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