This is an unprecedented moment in time, where the old rules no longer apply. So what does this mean for the future of leadership in the social sector?
In 2019, society faces vast problems: poverty, environmental destruction, people feeling disenfranchised. Such complex issues cannot be solved by one sector acting alone, or by using the simplistic ‘cause and effect’ paradigms of old.
At the same time, in our digital age, organisations and leaders have greater professional and personal exposure. The days of automatic trust are long gone. Clearly, a new approach is needed – and a new kind of leadership, based on transparency and trust.
We need individuals who will understand the interconnected nature of the issues we are dealing with, try new ways of working together to tackle them, and learn whether their approach works in real time, through world class monitoring and evaluation. They will know when they are successful but also be open when they are not successful – sharing their findings and learning together.
This more collaborative, open style certainly challenges the accepted view of how the social sector should operate. Moves towards greater commercialisation and payment by results over the past 20 years have driven a style of management that is not always transparent – and may, in fact, be less likely to stimulate partnerships. The challenge is to change that in an age where trust will be ever more important, especially for millennials and Gen Z.
The good news is that the face of leadership has already started changing. Even five years ago, recruiters were still seeking leaders with ‘functional’ experience – experienced in management, good with numbers, unlikely to frighten the Board. But today – with increased competition, less stability and more movement between sectors – the old skillset is too rigid. Instead, we actively seek leaders who are agile, creative and externally-focused.
In 2019, the people who are most effective in driving positive social outcomes not only lead and inspire their own organisations, they also look outwards to catalyse change.They influence other organisations, and even sectors, and encourage action based on shared vision. They are flexible, adept at forming partnerships and comfortable with ambiguity.
These leaders also communicate more authentically. They are unafraid to show humility. This means that the way they report on performance may be different – based on a higher degree of openness about failures, and on new, even experimental measures of success.
In a world where the future is unknowable, transformation depends on the ability to continuously experiment and adapt. Leadership that relies on fixed outcomes, or a rigid plan, simply won’t deliver.
If you embrace the risk, things will go wrong. But transparency is also the only way to win lasting trust – and with it, the funds you need to change the world.
We are three organisations who each want our work to contribute to a better society. We share a common belief that social change is everyone’s responsibility and bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. Our collaboration is based on a belief in co-production and that, together, we will always achieve mor