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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Build confidence in your future leaders - these are resources that must be invested in for the sake of sustainability

The 2014 Not-for-Profit Leadership Survey authored by OPTIMUM NFP and Growing People+Organisations, identified that 52% of respondent NFP CEO’s believed that whilst their management teams had strong technical capabilities, they lacked the leadership skills needed for the future.

The survey suggested that traditionally, managers were promoted or appointed into their roles for their technical or professional skills and they learnt to manage a team through trial and error. As suggested in the report, the high costs of staff turnover and the need to develop staff to achieve organisational goals meant that managers needed to have highly developed leadership skills more so than technical skills.

Emotional Intelligence, or EI as it is usually referred to, is very often seen as a necessity in leadership roles, especially when leaders are focusing on the implementation of change programs, where appropriate engagement with all staff is not only necessary, but also fundamental to the success of the change program.  EI has many facets including emotional self-awareness, emotional awareness of others, emotional self-management and control, emotional management of others, emotional reasoning, and expression.

Some authors suggest EI cannot be taught. Managers either have this skill or they don’t. Others suggest that whilst an innate leaning towards effective EI traits is prevalent amongst successful leaders, exposure to appropriate leadership and personnel development can either improve existing EI capabilities or at least expose potential leaders to a wide range of EI related attributes where in the right environment, and with the right mentoring, can over time, refine EI type skills.

In a potentially correlated issue, the Survey also found that 52% of respondents believed that their NFP’s inability to adapt to change was a risk to the sustainability of their organisation. A broader issue appeared to be the extent to which these organisations were change ready from a cultural perspective as well as from a technical preparedness level. In this regard the challenge for leaders is to understand what stage their organisation is at with regards its readiness to react to, and absorb change, identify the gaps, and then look to address them with a myriad of suitable approaches, before change is implemented. Of course when we talk organisational culture, be it for change readiness purposes or for general performance purposes, a leader’s EI becomes of paramount importance, given the role that the leader plays in both these issues.

Seeing the above issues in context, it becomes clear that leadership development training may become critical in addressing the challenging issues that face this sector into the future. Existing evidence suggests that traditional leadership development programs may have substantial shortcomings.  McKinsey and Co have identified four such shortcomings. These include:

  • the fact that many of these programs overlook context by working on the invalid assumption that one size fits all;

  • the fact that reflection is decoupled from real work, underpinning the absence of real-life application of acquired theoretical knowledge
  • the fact that the need to change mind-sets which requires an associated change in behaviours is often overlooked, and finally
  • the fact that such programs tend to overlook the Return-on-Investment aspect associated with the cost of such programs.

Alternatives do exist utilising an Action Learning framework. Action Learning as an approach for driving performance was originally proposed by Professor Reg Revans in the 1940s and over the years has led to significant international successes, especially in the NFP sector where the central focus on mission and values enables participants to develop relevant work-based solutions in their own organisations, whilst furthering their own personal and professional development. By doing so, the Action Learning process successfully addresses the shortcomings that McKinsey and Co has identified in existing leadership development programs.

OPTIMUM NFP is pleased to announce the launch of the Australian arm of UK based Action Learning international, which has successfully developed the Action Learning Question approach which is designed to aid leadership and personnel development, whilst focusing in the resolution of work-based challenges. These programs have been successfully running in the UK and Europe for the last 14 years in the commercial, public and NFP sectors, and have much to offer Australian not-for-profits.

Action Learning International is holding its public launch in Sydney on Wednesday 4th June and limited places are still available to hear from the founders of the Action Learning Question program, Professor Richard Hale and Professor Joanna Kozubska from the UK. To register your interest in attending, please visit the OPTIMUM NFP web site and complete the online application, alternatively contact David Rosenbaum at to indicate your interest.

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