Guest blog by Josie Cluer, a Partner at EY, following Altitude: Futures Redefined the conference.

EY Ernst & Young, sponsors of Altitude_Social Club conference 14 June 2019

Last week, EY proudly hosted the Altitude Conference for Social Club at EY. As a purpose-led organisation, with a mission to build a better working world, it was great to welcome such a fantastic group of people to our offices. The purpose of the day was to explore how the world is changing and what that means for the social sector (by which we mean charities, community interest companies, social enterprises and so on). I spoke about what leadership in the social sector needs to look and feel like.

My reflections were as a leader in EY’s people advisory practice, leading work with public and third sector clients on all elements of the people agenda: leadership, learning, organisation design and change. And, equally importantly, I also spoke as a member of the social sector myself. I am chair of a fantastic charity, the Cares Family, which I have supported to grow from start up to scale up, from 1 person to over 30, from one branch to 5. I have also established and run a start up social enterprise in a prison, and sat on a range of charity boards, and mentored charity leaders. So I know the sector well enough to be able to be challenging!

Here is a summary of my presentation:

It’s not about you… but it’s about you

Leadership is critical in any organisation. All the research shows that without good, strong, leadership, the chances of successful change are severely reduced.

As a leader of a socially led organisation – perhaps that you have founded – it is easy to feel that investment in leadership is selfish, because it’s spending money on you. Often leaders think that time, energy, money would be better spent on the front line. I disagree. It’s not about you. It’s about advancing your aims. It’s about the purpose of the organisation, the impact you are collectively making. Investing in leadership – which just so happens to be you – is investing in the ability of the organisation to maximise its impact. So think of your purpose and don’t feel shy about investing your time and money in your own leadership.

The world is changing, social organisations are changing…

Earlier in the day, delegates had heard fantastic and challenging insight about how the world around them is changing, and how some charities are adapting. EY’s own research has tracked how the most successful organisations have shifted over the last 5-10 years. In the “old world”, organsiations operated in relatively static environments and focused on increasing profit, doing so through improving efficiency and quality of outputs. They managed via hierarchies, planned in waterfall, and competed against other organisations. Organisations that are the most successful in today’s rapidly changing, increasingly complex and ambiguous world are purpose-led and focus on outcomes. They improve by embracing disruption, are highly networked, both internally and externally, and riding the waves of ambiguity. They outperform the market by 40-50%.

…so leadership is changing…

So how do you lead an agile organisation? First, by understanding that the role of leaders has changed. In the “old world”, successful leaders operated according to the Fayol model: their functions were planning, organising, coordinating, commanding and controlling; they were “directors” or “bosses”. In the new world, leaders have a different, and multi-faceted role: figurehead, convener, facilitator, adviser, coach, ambassador.

Our leadership research draws on 30,000 people in 2,500 organisations across 50 countries. We have developed a model which focuses on the twelve critical leadership traits to outperform the market in this new world. This research is supported across sector, and the themes chime with the work done on 21st Public Servant and Craig’s own work on successful social entrepreneurs.

Of these, I suggested four key leadership traits that will bring disproportionate advantage for social leaders:

  1. Being purpose-led: starting with why you are doing something (not what you are doing) differentiates an organisation against others. The social sector is already great at this – articulating what kind of world they are trying to build. This is crucial to motivating and engaging your team, your customers, your funders and the wider public. This in turn drives performance. In one of the other sessions, Jude from Literacy Pirates talked about how she works with potential funders to inspire them to align their goals. Only once they are bought into how the organisation is changing the world does she think about asking for money.
  2. Navigating uncertainty by being the disruptor: many social organisations have disrupted the status quo. From Thomas Barnardo – who challenged the received wisdom of the Victorian era by seeing children in poverty, not as lazy and undeserving of help, but as children who needed help – to InHouse Records – who are a record label and a transformational rehabilitative programme – the social sector is a positive disruptive force. My challenge to the sector is this: don’t just innovate once, when you start up; keep challenging yourselves and others to innovate constantly and keep trying new things. I encouraged radical, ambitious rebellion to prevent innovate start up charities becoming a part of the establishment and reluctant to change as they grow up. (This challenge applies equally to funders, who must create an environment that rewards disruption and new ideas.)
  3. Being a super-connector: having a strong network has always been important to leaders, but this has exploded in the social media age. It is now three years this weekend that my friend Jo Cox MP was murdered so horribly for just doing what she believed in. In her memory, her friends set up the great get together. This brings together organisations as diverse as Tesco, Scouts, the Womens Institute, various banks, the Refugee Council and more. All these organisations came together as a movement, behind a shared goal. At a more local level, charity CEOs often talk about how they link up the local council with the Citizens Advice Office, with community groups, with local businesses, with schools to make things happen.
  4. Mind clarity: for a social organisation to have maximum impact, the person leading it must have maximum impact. In our always-on world, with passionate people who are inspired and driven by a purpose, it can be hard to prioritise the things we need to be our “best selves”. Even though we all know the basics of good health and wellbeing, how many leaders regularly have eight hours sleep, eat five a day, spent quality time with family and exercise regularly? Call it managing your energy, peak performance or being your best self, successful leaders know how to get the best out of themselves and do whatever it takes to do so.

All this brings me back to my first point: if a leader isn’t on their game, the organisation is missing out on making the biggest impact it can. That’s why it’s not selfish but selfless to invest in your own leadership. Because you can have a bigger impact the better you are.

Josie Cluer is a Partner at EY, advising public and social organisations on transformation.