New models of leadership

Changing ourselves is better than demanding change from others.  The more we achieve, the more others will follow.  And, in the current uncertain political and economic environment, it is all the more important to unlock the energies of ourselves and of our people and communities rather than simply lobbying for change in government.  Too often accountability in the voluntary sector has been seen as an upwards exercise to government, because of the money it has given, but the Better Way model must be mass participation and accountability to people and communities.

This is about a radical shift in the nature of leadership.  Traditional assumptions that the best leadership requires ‘born leaders’ with exceptional charismatic and heroic qualities still persist, but much modern evidence places a greater emphasis on context and suggests that distributed leadership models, where far more people participate in leadership roles, are most effective.  It is also true, as Caroline Slocock writes here, that many major social changes, such as women’s rights, would not have happened without the individual and collective leadership of the many, not just the few.

We need to unlearn almost everything we are conventionally taught about leadership - the role of social activists is to grow the capacity for change making in others, not simply to lead the change ourselves.  And we should give much greater prominence to the role of the front-line, and encourage the blurring of lines between service users and paid workers. This style of leadership is based not on leading from the front, and managing downwards through targets and presenting people and communities as problems to be solved.  Instead it is about unlocking the enormous potential that exists within communities and individuals and also institutions.

It is also about a strong sense of individuals as agents of social change, whatever their background.  There are challenges for the voluntary sector here.  Parts of the voluntary sector have become stuck in a managerial culture that has eroded a sense of social activism.  These organisations need to recover the 'fire' which is often best found at present at local level.

Over the next year, we will be exploring as a group these new models of leadership and how to achieve this radical shift in practice.