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Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations
Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations

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1.1 Camila Batmanghelidjh and transformational leadership

Batmanghelidjh did display a kind of leadership that stretched above and beyond the transactional and rational within Kids Company. She said to BBC filmmaker Lynn Alleway in a 2016 Panorama documentary, ‘Realism never got anyone anywhere, Lynn. Aspiration and imagination got people to transcend barriers. To the last minute I have got to hold on to aspiration and imagine a better situation and bring it about’ (Camila’s Kids Company, 2016). The language here is evocative of breaking conventional barriers – indeed of transforming how such an organisation should operate, as well as the lives of the children it serves.

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Figure _unit4.1.2 Figure 2 Transformation from caterpillar to butterfly

The aspiration and imagination of Kids Company came packaged in a personalised approach to staff and clients. In Alleway’s film, staff were routinely greeted in affectionate terms (‘I love our staff very much’; ‘lovelies’; ‘darlings’; ‘You’re amazing’). It was clear that the staff (and clients) enjoyed significant intellectual stimulation. Batmanghelidjh was experimenting with and implementing a fresh and challenging approach to child protection and development. Batmanghelidjh was certainly a role model for her staff. Her long hours of work, optimism, faith in the organisational mission and care for her clients was palpable. Likewise, transformational leadership suggests that leading an organisation is not something that can be bracketed off as but one aspect of a leader’s life because it relates to people’s feeling and beliefs – transformational leadership requires the whole person to be present at all times.

This was a woman who exemplified the Kids Company ethos until the very end. In a striking monologue towards the end of the life of Kids Company, in response to a question from Alleway about whether she was to blame for any of the problems, Batmanghelidjh said:

Are you doing it to me as well? What would you like me to say, Lynn? I am so sorry. But what am I sorry for? I am not sorry I gave the kids money. I am not sorry I bought the kids nice things. I am not sorry I fought for them. I am not sorry. The only thing I am sorry about is I didn’t raise enough money. What would you like me to be sorry about, Lynn?

(Camila’s Kids Company, 2016).

Here we get a sense of the passionate Camila, of the‘inspirational motivation’, to borrow a phrase from transformational leadership. She certainly inspired those who worked for her and her clients. During the BBC film, her staff are proactive in complimenting Batmanghelidjh and her approach to the camera. The documentary also shows an emotional address by Batmanghelidjh to staff, some tearful, as she is cheered on in the face of some clear organisational problems. Many of Batmanghelidjh’s clients clearly valued her a great deal. When Kids Company did close, emotional protestors gathered outside the charity’s headquarters, calling out Batmanghelidjh’s name repeatedly, through tears: ‘Camila, Camila, Camila, Camila.’ This was a scene of genuine mourning for a leader they came to think of in deeply personal ways, as the dimension in transformational leadership of individualised consideration demands.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, in short, appears to be an exemplar of transformational leadership – both in its original and its later forms. She certainly led others to up their aspirations as far as children’s welfare was concerned but her brand of transformational leadership also makes apparent some of the underlying problems of Kids Company – specifically, perhaps, its over-reliance on a single leader’s vision. The course therefore now moves on to consider some of the benefits and problems with transformational leadership in more depth.