The Third Sector Leadership Centre’s inaugural big event took place this week at Vinopolis in South London, and there were nuggets of gold to be had. Given that social entrepreneurs are often instantly leaders as well, and often the next generation of third sector leaders, I thought I’d try and capture a few brief highlights from some of the speakers and presentations:
– Digby Jones, recently DG of the CBI, started us off with the keynote, and he had some good leadership advice, including:
- lead by example (if it’s uncomfortable, do it first)
- ensure people take their holidays
- put the hours in, but…
- …if it can wait till tomorrow, go home tonight
- problems at work often stem from problems at home
- communicate at all times: foster a culture of openness and honesty
- look out for others: "good leaders are unselfish people"
- have a sense of humour
- remember QED: Quality (of organisation, brand, the work), Environment (workplace, politics) and Dosh (has to be right; "if there’s room in the budget, give it to them not you…then tell them you have")
Inevitably, he also banged on about the need to educate people about risk, about the low levels of literacy and numeracy, and that there are winners and losers. To quote directly, "If they can’t do things, let’s put an exocet up their chuff". And he ended with another pearl of wisdom: "It’s very diffficult to give a bollocking to a cheerful person"
[In theory, this led on to a "big debate" but actually we just had a series of speakers (something of a shame for those of us expecting/hoping for sparks to fly)….]
Stuart Etherington of NCVO started with a generous tribute to Stephen Bubb of ACEVO for having the original idea, before moving on to what was distinct about leadership in the third sector, namely governance, measurement, more/more diverse stakeholders, combining delivery and policy, and multiple funding streams.
Shaks Ghosh, ex of Crisis and now at the controversial Private Equity Foundation, talked about leadership being about:
- reaching down into communities, and understanding how to lead within communities
- the challenge of remembering where we came from, and retaining that contact with the grassroots
- fearlessness (in pushing boundaries, grasping opportunities…and saying no)
- good management, as well as energy and passion
Stephen Bubb, chief exec of ACEVO, reciprocated the tribute from NCVO’s boss (who said they didn’t get on? ;0) and gave his insights:
- best leadership lessons are learned on the job
- "tipping point" leadership: you don’t always need everyone with you…sometimes you are ahead of them, seeking opportunities and reading trends
- whingeing: a CEO should never do it, but point out the way forward (there was a swipe here at whingers in the sector, methinks)
- "You don’t cross a chasm one step at a time" (from Lloyd George)
Finally, Campbell Robb, the Director General of the Office of the Third Sector, shared his insights (the first of which was not to speak fifth, as Digby Jones walked out as he started….!), starting with an anecdote in which he referred to an exercise on a Harvard programme about the power of silence. Having chatted to his partner, she asked if NCVO had "sent you to Harvard to find out you talk too much", before adding that she could have done that much more cheaply. The lesson from this was to look to those who know you. Others included:
- keep mission and values at heart
- have empathy and humility (and a willingness to learn at all times)
- create space for fearlessness
Add all of those up and some sort of perfect leader may emerge…and more still came out under questioning. Campbell Robb had a neat summation of the independence issue (govt: "why don’t you do what we pay for?"; sector: "why don’t you pay for what we do?"), while Stuart Etherington talked of the "uniqueness of managing people who don’t have to be there" (volunteers). Stephen Bubb called for boldness over paying for the best people, and being professional and passionate (and that the two are possible in tandem).
The sessions I was in were varied: the first was (in title) about leadership in local communities, but was really an introduction to an evaluation/planning tool, rather grandly titled Weavers Triangle. It’s basically a triangle with Overall aim at the top, Aims/Outcomes at the middle level, and Activities/Outputs at the bottom. Like this:
It was quite interesting, but caused lively debate as there was inconsistency in the way it was described at different times.The flaw for me is that there is no sense of "needs" in that equation: what unmet needs are trying to be met? As Ben from Bassac said to me afterwards, though, it’s just a tool…and people can do what they will with it.
The second session I went to was "leading a social enterprise". This was obviously more directly SSE’s field, so no great revelations, although it was interesting to gauge the cultural barriers from some voluntary sector organisations to trading and earning income. The Adventure Capital Fund gave a presentation about their work (which was very dry; some case studies would really have brought this alive) in terms of mixed loans and grants, and seeking a blended return + the type of support they provide during the length of their involvement.
There was also a social entrepreneur, Kevin from Pecan, an organisation in Peckham which had been revitalised through nimbleness and new innovations. He was a much more engaging speaker (almost all questions went to him), and covered important issues like risk, internal skills, shift in cultures, and the need to communicate the social impact of enterprise activities. He also gave a real sense of this being a people-driven change, rather than simply adopting a model or structure which would solve all problems.
[btw, it was great to see an SSE Fellow and current student in that session as well….]
Other stuff: some decent networking, an interesting whistlestop session on integrative leadership (which I’ll come back to another time, methinks), and a final plenary which didn’t do much for me but others seemed to enjoy. There was one great quote from Susan Digby (or Susan Digby Jones as she was called in the programme!), founder of the Voices Foundation who said, in response to a question about leadership/gender, that she’d always been able to get any man to do anything for her! Her advice included:
- learn on the job
- absolute blind faith in the mission
- strong support systems (at home and work)
- display passion + work hard
- work on the ground: it feeds and sustains the motivation
Final note to Tracy Beasley, Director of the TSLC (and congrats to her and her team on the event being a real success), who left us with the thought that "there can be no change if there is no learning", which certainly underpins SSE‘s work and has done since inception.