What type of leadership does our sector need?

When the World Economic Forum identified a ‘lack of leadership’ as one of its key trends in 2015, few of us could have foreseen it becoming the new status quo. From the gender pay crisis, the scandals within the Aid Sector and the seemingly relentless lurch from crisis to crisis in our politics, it feels now more than ever, leadership needs a reboot.How our sector is led in the next few years will have a profound effect on individuals, our communities and Scottish society. The effects of austerity, increasing demand for services, competition from other sectors and a more discerning public, provides us with new challenges and opportunities as a sector.

Understanding what leaders need to thrive

Recent research carried out by academics at Durham University and the University of Dundee, highlights the need for an evolution (perhaps even a revolution) in how we understand leadership in the Third Sector.

Not surprisingly, they highlighted the need for emotional intelligence, personal humility, motivating a team, being resilient and having a strong values base and purpose. They also noted the importance of encouraging an enterprising approach to supporting and sustaining innovation in our organisations, acting ethically, and collaborating across the third, public and private sectors.

It was also critical to build purpose-driven, trusting and caring work environments where people can step up and be their best selves.

Long-term innovative thinking

How can we create a culture of innovation within our organisations to cope with current challenges? Traditionally, our sector has been good at being innovative - we have needed to be. However, a fight for survival has made this more difficult for many.

But it can be small and simple innovations that make a big difference, such as the trusted customer system where the Crags in Edinburgh extended their opening hours based on trust. They successfully increased their revenue, without incurring staff overtime costs. Young people were also invited to pitch their ideas to help the organisation diversify and increase its income, while partnering with university students to develop a new (and free) app to reach new audiences.


Taking the time to build trust and collaborate

Collaboration – easy to talk about, often harder to do. It requires us to keep our own and our organisation’s egos in check, and find true common ground and a collective vision. There are many great examples in the sector:

James Dunbar CEO of New Start Highland has grown New Start from scratch to 105 employees, developed income-generating trading subsidiaries, and crucially worked closely in partnership with public sector partners and clients. He has also ‘stepped in’ to incorporate smaller organisations into New Start, maintaining jobs and services when they hit tricky times. He puts it down to strong values and knowing what you stand for as an organisation.

What does the future hold for our sector’s leaders?

In many ways, our sector is a shining light in these uncertain times, delivering vital services to the most vulnerable in society and ensuring their voices are heard. We are also bucking historic trends, with a higher proportion of women in leadership roles than other sectors. However, we must not get complacent.

Leadership that helps to create leaders at all levels is critical so everyone can play a role in our sector not only surviving, but thriving despite the current political and economic context.

By becoming more innovative, collaborative and values-led leaders, we have the power to affect huge change not only within our teams and organisations, but in the lives of the communities we serve.

Take some time today and ask yourself:

  • What am I doing to develop my own leadership?
  • Who could I potentially collaborate within the third/public/private sector?
  • What have I done today to encourage a culture of innovation within my organisation?
  • How can I make sure there isn’t a ‘leadership deficit’ in my organisation?

As a result of this research, the Social Enterprise Academy is launching a new leadership programme exclusively for Chief Executives in the third sector, in collaboration with ACOSVO.

Starting 5 & 6 June 2018, Glasgow

To find out more, please contact charlotte@socialenterprise.academy or call us at 0131 243 2670.

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