RESEARCH //

Leader Learning for Purpose 2017-06-21T11:50:31+00:00

LEARNING TO BE A LEADER

It is little understood how individuals best learn to become leaders, what challenges such development, and what can and should be done in the future. This report is part of ongoing research about leader development in and for the Australian Not-for-Profit sector. Summarised are the first findings from an exploratory interview study of ten Australian Not-for-Profit leaders.

Leaders are important to the success of organisations as they motivate and inspire other people, set direction, bring about needed change, and thereby influence performance – there is substantial evidence to support this. Given many Not-for-Profit (NFP) organisations operate in resource scarce and volatile environments, the importance of or even reliance on capable leaders is amplified in the NFP sector. Consequently, formal and informal leaders, at all levels of NFP organisations, significantly affect the ultimate impact a purpose driven organisation can have.

SUMMARY

  • High workloads impede systematic leader development.

  • Financial resources are essential yet scarce.

  • Mentoring is crucial to support and grow future leaders.

  • Learning opportunities must become more sector conscious.

KEY FINDINGS

  1. High workloads impede systematic leader development.

Leaders consider the lack of time a significant obstacle for their development journey. Particularly the time required to engage in formal development programs is often considered incompatible with the lived experience and high workloads.

“I don’t have middle management here, one moment I’m here with you, next moment I’m dealing with a support group in crisis, next moment because all my staff are in training I’m answering their phone, so therefore it’s dictated by that. But time, we just don’t have the time. With all of that happening to give you an example, I’m working every single weekend…you just don’t have that time for development.”

Natasha

“I don’t have middle management here, one moment I’m here with you, next moment I’m dealing with a support group in crisis, next moment because all my staff are in training I’m answering their phone, so therefore it’s dictated by that. But time, we just don’t have the time. With all of that happening to give you an example, I’m working every single weekend…you just don’t have that time for development.”

Natasha

> Time represents a precious resources. Whilst we all have the same amount of time per day, the ubiquitous work demands placed on NFP leaders make giving time to learning a challenging proposition. This affects many leaders, and particularly those in smaller NFP organisations. Arguably, more attention and emphasis is needed by governance boards and executives on providing time, relief and greater support to those individuals required and seeking to develop themselves further as leaders.

2. Financial resources are essential yet scarce.

Many NFP organisations have very limited, if any, designated resources to develop their workforce – and this applies to their leaders too. As a result, the reliance on alternative sources, such as scholarships, increases. In several cases it is found that external resources are the only means by which to give leaders access to formal development experiences.

“I’ve been really lucky within my career to get scholarships to do things. It is, I think, a great perk of being here in this sector, a leader in this sector. It was amazing.”

Greg

“Money is certainly a big pressure in that we don’t have a huge training budget so to send someone on a national conference you can’t just send like five people that really want to go”

Danielle

“Being a leader in the NFP sector means that you have to balance, and it’s difficult to do that. You have to get the balance right between the core mission and how you are going to fund that core mission to be sustainable, including the development of your leaders.”

Mark

> Financial resourcing of learning opportunities is crucial for leader development. NFP organisations, funders, and policy must establish support mechanisms which may involve budgeting routine operations so they cover staff learning costs, enlisting scholarships, subsidising or giving away course participation, among other.

3. Mentoring is crucial to support and grow future leaders.

Leaders consider mentoring experiences instrumental to their professional growth. Some were offered or sought out relationship with someone more experienced (in a given area of expertise) to establish a supportive relationship that involves knowledge sharing, network building, reflection, among other. Others explain that no systematic mentoring scheme is available to them, or such only offers mentors from within their own organisation, which does provide an independent perspective.

“I’m lucky to right now have a mentor who is a former CEO. I’ve also had mentors in the past and I’ve found those useful. It’s important to have someone within the sector and for so many reasons. For instance, it’s great to be able to talk to someone around the challenges of staffing and service delivery and all those things, it’s coming from people who know what it’s like.”
Greg
“I’m lucky to right now have a mentor who is a former CEO. I’ve also had mentors in the past and I’ve found those useful. It’s important to have someone within the sector and for so many reasons. For instance, it’s great to be able to talk to someone around the challenges of staffing and service delivery and all those things, it’s coming from people who know what it’s like.”
Greg

> Mentoring is a crucial element in the leader development process. NFP organisations and peak bodies should utilise their networks to establish mentoring opportunities across organisations. Designing formal mentoring programs relatively quickly results in alumni cohorts that can act as mentors themselves. Providing contextualised guidance for effective mentor-mentee relationships makes such schemes successful.

4. Learning opportunities must become more sector conscious.

Many courses and programs exist that promise great outcomes. However, trainings content and design are often perceived as somewhat outdated and/or of little relevance. That is, those seeking to develop as leaders seek learning experiences, yet find that what is offered does not sufficiently contextualise to the nature and needs of the NFP sector. Learning experiences that do cater for the specific NFP needs are often highly regarded.

“I don’t want to come across critical, but in general the (Peak Body) and training in that space, I just haven’t seen a lot of change in that offering”

Charles

“I attended a women in leadership course that they offer. And that was really great, basically. It was a fantastic opportunity to connect with women in the NFP space… I think that course opened my eyes”

Katerina

> Providers of learning experiences must genuinely design and deliver them for the NFP context and its complexities. NFP organisations should clearly ask for and tell what they need, align and define desired outcomes, and collaborate to tailor learning experiences.

CONCLUSION

Leaders – formal and informal – are key to realise positive change, and thus their systematic development must be given attention in the Australian NFP sector. The findings suggest that there is substantial room for improvement in the development of leaders in the NFP sector. Learning to be a leader is a process that requires time, money, support, and the right experiences.

This line of research continuous. If you are interested in finding out more, collaborating, or supporting this research, please contact us.