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Leadership in the Social Sector: Why We Need ChangeThis is a featured page

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Inclusive, networked, and collective approaches to leadership are vital for the development of the social sector, for its power to influence public will and public policy, and for the personal survival of leaders in the sector.

At present, the social sector leadership system privileges the exercise of leadership within organizations. An assumption exists that organizations are the most efficient and accountable way to deliver services and advocate for change.

The wisdom of this assumption has been seriously tested in the current economic environment. Nonprofit organizations, especially small ones, are struggling to survive the economic downturn and have few resources to collaborate with others. Large organizations are burdened by staffing, development, and management costs that compel them to spend enormous amounts of time raising money to ensure survival, leaving fewer resources to experiment with new forms of delivering services or jointly advocating for policies and practices that are so desperately needed for improving people’s lives.

While the dominant social sector leadership model has achieved many successes, its limitations are evident by increasing fragmentation, leadership burnout, and fears about who will lead organizations in the future. Underlying the organizational leadership crisis are:
  • Too much time spent raising money to sustain organizations with too little time spent on collaboration with other organizations to advocate for systemic and social change.
  • Too many demands with too few resources that lead to enormous feelings of stress, isolation, and unhelpful competition among leaders causing burnout.
  • Young leaders and leaders of color with little interest in ascending into leadership positions within the social sector because they do not see existing social sector organizations as an effective form of organizing transformational change.
Organizations working on the same issues that have aligned missions often see themselves as competitors. They compete for funding, for audiences, and for credibility in a system with too little peer support, too few opportunities to reflect and learn together, and inadequate infrastructure to support communication, coordination, and collaborative action. Competition encourages organizations to differentiate their unique value and make claims about what they can achieve alone, knowing full well that these achievements require enormous coordination, alignment, and collaboration with others.

If mission realization were elevated over organizational sustainability, there would be:
  • More constructive competition that stimulates innovation.
  • More networks of trusting relationships across race, sector, neighborhood, and generation.
  • More inclusive partnerships to coordinate resources to reduce duplication of services.
  • More learning communities of committed practitioners and thought leaders who connect their learning to improve practice and achieve greater impact.
  • More collective organizing that addresses the root causes of social issues
What are some of the leadership challenges you see in the social sector? What approaches to leadership development are critical for addressing these challenges? What’s missing in this discussion?

Original post: Leadership Learning Community Blog
Author: Claire Reinelt




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Latest page update: made by nataliallc , Mar 4 2010, 5:44 PM EST (about this update About This Update Edited by nataliallc

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