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

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3 Leadership and management in practice

Management offers a complicated but also comforting language and set of techniques. A consequence of this is that when faced with problems, the default position of managers tends to be to try to ‘tame’ problems with management tools (Carroll and Levy, 2008). Leadership, on the other hand, can seem more mysterious and tougher.

Such associations with leadership fit nicely with findings of a research project that course author Owain is involved with (Carroll et al., 2012), which tries to understand the mindsets of people as they proceed through leadership development programmes designed to be critical and collaborative. As people engage with leadership in more critical ways, they have to contend with four types of mindset that feel, initially at least, unusual, or even foreign, to more regularised ways of thinking and working.

  • Partiality: as leadership is concerned with exploring the unknown dimensions of problems, people become accustomed to working under conditions of uncertainty.
  • Dissipation: as previously held assumptions are challenged by colleagues in leadership, people become better at working with knowledge that seems to move and become less clear at times, as participants explore its nuances and complexities.
  • Disruption: good leadership does disrupt the everyday routines of people in their work. It is confrontational and conflictual in positive, generative ways – because conflict points at what matters to people and it stops complacent thinking and habits.
  • Sensation: leadership involves a high degree of bodily and emotional awareness. It can feel awkward, thrilling, frustrating, maddening, dangerous, illicit, inspiring, and more. Leadership involves paying attention to how we feel as well as how we think.

Getting to leadership and staying with leadership can be hard work, but can also hold great promise: of more meaningful, participative, caring and energetic work around issues that matter. Having considered leadership in practice, you will now move on to consider the specific relevance of leadership for voluntary organisations.