Current leaders, where they come from and how that's changing

Author Comment

We were discussing last week that there are various historical trends that you can pick up and follow in tracking why leaders move in and out of civil society. This week, we'll be looking at who civil society leaders are, where they come from and what will change about this in the future.

I often think it interesting that other professions and sectors (private sector, sport, politics etc) have role models that people aspire to be like. Every budding entrepreneur wants to be Richard Branson, every footballer Michael Owen etc. Why is it that the sector does not (or cannot) have similar inspirational figures that every kid is talking about in the playground? It may seem slightly trite, but I think that it is a significant symptom at the crux of our problem.

The sector is clearly highly attractive later in life: Acevo have highlighted that 31.2% of the sector’s CEOs came from the private sector and over 50% from various public sector categories. Reasons being mainly ‘making a difference’ ‘interest in a specific job’. Pay cuts are freely accepted by those who make the shift. This suggests that the sector cannot fill its top jobs internally - either because it is impossible to get the right skills in the sector or underinvestment in leadership development.

So, two main questions today:

  • Who are today's leaders and from where do they emerge?
  • Will current trends change in the coming years (short, medium and long-term)?

More questions to compliment:

  • Who are the VCS’ role models and most prolific leaders?
  • What do we think of the fact that most leaders in VCS organisations have not spent all/much of their working lives in the sector but have more often than not 'parachuted in'?
  • Do third sector leaders gain or lose because of the career paths that they follow?
  • Which leaders are currently underrepresented in the sector and civil society? (this could be as much that you think there are too few people who have worked as accountants as you think there are too few women)
  • Do we really believe that the recent financial turmoil and the way in which it may or may not have struck at what have been core values for a long time will mean that the landscape of leadership will shift? Will the VCS attract any more leaders because of it?

And a reminder of our 3 aims with the inquiry:

  • What challenges and opportunities will the next generation of VCS/civil society leaders have to deal with?
  • What is the current state of leadership development in the VCS/civil society?
  • How can the VCS/civil society prepare and attract its leaders of the future?

In relation to the question on trends and the future, I thought I would share an extract from the report developed by my syndicate group when doing the first part of the Windsor Leadership Trust Programme last year.

We were faced with answering the following question, ‘what does society and your organisation demand from you as a leader and how might that change over the next ten years? How could you make your leadership style more effective?’

I believe that our collective response on the summer of the future challenges and trends fit nicely with this debate.

Society in 10-Years Time

The group considered 4 broad areas to be significant to societal change in the next 10-years: ethics, demographics, the availability of basic resources, and social networks. An Ethical approach to strategic leadership was considered vital for both public and private sectors; while globalisation and profit margin clearly raised questions about the propriety of the minimum wage and (cheaply) out-sourcing production to the developing world, the use of ‘ethical intelligence’ to provide international security was also considered as the only sustainable option in the face of extremism. Demographic challenges were well recognised by all sectors; in particular an ageing population with an uncertain pension will present new demands on the family and wider society and comes at the end of a period in which British society (across many ethnic groups) appears to have become more fractured and less family orientated. At the same time society will become more ethnically diverse with the growth and spread of differing ethnic communities; this will not be confined to the Muslim groups already in the media spotlight, but a diverse group of economic and other migrants. In the worse case these groups will polarise political thought and it will require strong political and community leadership to resist the insidious development of political and social development along ethnic lines. The Availability of Basic Resources (food, fuel, water, shelter) is increasingly a consideration for most people in the UK. Fuel prices have recently affected food heating and transport costs but to date are only critical to a significant minority in the UK; in 2018, leaders will be challenged by a domestic population keen to (at least) maintain today’s standard of living and a global population desperate to achieve standards to sustain life. The charitable sector is likely to find it increasingly difficult to draw on support from a UK population that is tightening its belt in face of economic challenges. Lastly, the group considered that there was likely to be a significant change in the structure of social networks. This is not just recognition of the development of (closed) ethnic communities and the emergence of dysfunctional sub-cultures, particularly in cities; it is the anticipation of greater on-line or virtual communication that will reduce personal interaction. Recruiting, training and leading a population unused to face-to-face relationships will be a new and substantial challenge.

Leadership in the Future

Syndicate members each had accounts of how, during their professional careers, they had witnessed leadership styles change to accommodate the changing gender and ethnic composition of their workforce and to recognise UK society’s demands for equality and fairness. There were also accounts of how leaders reflected the situation they or the organisation were in at a particular time but a broader recognition that the basic leadership tenets probably don’t change much, rather they are adapted to circumstance. The following points were considered to be immutable for a successful leader today and in 2018:

• Responsibility to set an example. At the basic level the leader should set an example of professional, ethical and social standards that demand respect and allow considerate leadership without compromise. At a higher level, the leader should set an example in wider society using skills, privilege and contacts to lead and improve the community beyond the office doors.

• Passion. The leader should be passionate about the aim and the workforce that will deliver that aim. Such passion will be infectious and will carry subordinates and peers alike. The group recognised that even the external speakers who did not present a particularly likeable or believable persona, were passionate about their industry or role. Passionate leaders in society or in community projects will generate enthusiasm and commitment.

• Confidence to operate outside expected parameters or boundaries. Increasingly the 21st century leader will need to operate outside conventional professional or experienced based boundaries to be successful. Today’s leaders, at the middle and emerging senior management level, have backgrounds rooted in the 70s, 80s and 90s and they are consequently likely to face many challenges to their perceptions of social, economic and cultural norms.

• Adding Value. Leaders in all sectors will be expected to add recognisable and measurable value. This will be expected by shareholders, subordinates, media and general public alike; all of whom will be discriminating and demanding in what they expect from a leader. The Group discussed 360 degree reporting and determined that this increasingly popular management tool formalised a general trend towards the organisation and society expecting leaders to be accountable. At the individual level there is also a personal need for a feeling of achievement, which can place the leader under self-induced pressure to add value.

• Small Victories. The leader should not be discouraged from action, either within the framework of the employing organisation or in activity in society, by the prospect of achieving minimal effect. Although disproportionate effort should be avoided in attempting to deliver seemingly impossible effect, some effort should nonetheless be made. Both in the work place and in society the most difficult strategic effect is unlikely to be delivered by individuals in the short term, but instead will be the culmination of small (often personal) victories.

• Altruism. The altruism of 19th Century businessmen may not be considered commonplace in today’s workplace, however all syndicate members offered personal and surprising insights of such behaviour and it was considered morally responsible to provide society with time if not economic support.

• Cascade Effect. The syndicate group finally anticipated that good leaders achieving the above would generate a cascade effect where other leaders, employees and the wider community would be inspired to take greater and more effective responsibility for their workplace and community.

The others in my syndicate group were, Peter Leeming - Airside Assurance Manager (Heathrow Airport Ltd), Tim Mills - Head of Broadcast Scheduling, Broadcast Resources (ITV), Hamish Tetlow - Executive Assistant to Fleet Commander Operations (Royal Navy), Warren White III - Supplier Development and Technical Manager (Rolls-Royce USA), and Wendy Yeadon - Head of Corporate Development (Leicester Constabulary).

Log in or join for free to comment.

Funded by Capacity Builders and Improving Support