Thinking about civil society and particularly the leadership and management skills required in our fast changing future, I’m really struck by the different skills, and styles required, and wondering whether or not they are compatible. There is a big and compelling literature about management in voluntary organisations. There’s a recognition that managing beyond the bottom-line is both challenging and liberating, and that the skills required are different from those in most market or government institutions. And we have powerful and influential institutions thinking hard and creatively about the essentials of leadership and management in organisations motivated by social good, not profit. For large parts of the voluntary sector this is absolutely what is needed, and the disciplines of management, accountability, of strategy and control do really matter. No one wants to be responsible for a poorly run service meeting the needs of vulnerable citizens. No one will trust an organisation that can’t tell you where it has spent its money.
But for much of civil society the challenge is now different. Time and time again I am struck by the importance of network and movement building, of the extent to which successful parts of civil society are not organisational at all, but are much more fluid, much more complex, groupings of people and places – connecting, engaging, challenging, and making a difference. Movements of people and of ideas require different leadership, and a new skill set for engagement. They need a sort of responsiveness aligned with a sense of purpose; an openness to new and different ways of doing things. Movements are not owned, rarely visibly led, but they are supported. Networks are not controlled but they build the social capital that drives social change.
Do we need new organisational forms, and new styles of leadership to support these more fluid approaches? Do we need different concepts of stewardship, of planning and of governance? And where can we learn the skills needed to support movements without destroying them? To engage in networks that build trust, rather than erode it?
New organisational forms are sometimes the answer to big changes, but far more often the changes are in our behaviours, in what we value, and in how we learn. If civil society is about networks and movements as much as it is about organisations, what needs to change?21st August 2017