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Leadership is one of the most talked about concepts in civil society and social enterprise – writes our CEO Stephen Barnett. It can feel like a fuzzy concept but its practice matters more than ever.

Leadership is about the destination

At the launch of our new eu3leader project last month, we asked a group of leaders and trainers from around Europe what it is. No surprise: there were as many responses as there were people in the room. Here’s one which resonated with me: leadership means seeing a destination which most people cannot yet see and inspiring them to get there together.

And what is a leader? The obvious answer is someone who has followers. The idea of shared leadership also had some appeal in our group. Everyone in a team, group or organisation has the potential and perhaps the duty to take the lead in something – an initiative, a professional area, a project. The overall leader holds the pieces together and ties up loose ends.

We also asked which characteristics leaders today need: it seems that you need to be resourceful, resilient, self-aware, open-minded. In the third sector they also need to act with integrity. Having spoken with many leaders in the sector, I might also add that leaders shouldn’t try to be superhuman. On a personal note, I’ve learnt to accept my own blind spots in leadership and rely on the strengths of the team – what  my Board rightly call it the dream team.

Leaders tackle challenges and embrace opportunities

Moving on from the more abstract concepts, our participants helped us dig into practicalities.

Challenges Opportunities
Austria Competition; marketisation; episodic volunteering; blurring profit/nonprofit boundaries Blended business models; refugees as new volunteers; advocacy by volunteers
Croatia Lack of public trust in third sector; short-term financing; out-dated IT systems Linking different stakeholders; community ownership and philanthropy; sector solidarity and cooperation
UK Balancing delivery and advocacy; demonstrating impact; managing organisations with blurred boundaries and multiple relationships Openness to hybrid models; millennial generation; emergence of new technologies

Leadership is about more than adapting to change

EUCLID Network, the Association for Civil Society Development or SMART, the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership at the Open University, Vienna University of Economics and Business, the Pere Tarres Foundation, Working with Europe, and DIESIS.

Funded by the European Commission under its Erasmus+ programme, the 30-month project aims to build capacity of third sector managers. At a time of rising societal and environmental needs, reduced grant income and adverse political and public attitudes to the sector, we need leaders more than ever.

As Truls Neubeck from IDEELL ARENA (Member in Sweden) pointed out in our launch meeting, we need leaders who are capable not just of adapting to a changing world, but of changing the world. This takes us back to our vision as Euclid Network: to see civil society and social enterprise empowered to drive positive change.

Together with our eu3leader partners, we will build the first ever framework of third sector leadership competences at European level. We will design training modules and resources and test them with practising third sector leaders.

What on earth is leadership anyway?

Are you an association or school for leaders?

Time to get involved

Your members or alumni could become eu3leader fellows and take part in four capacity-building workshops for third sector leaders. The workshops take place over the next two years, starting in Barcelona (September 2017) and Brussels (December 2017).

You can contact the eu3leader project coordinator by 15 May 2017.

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