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

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Introduction and guidance

1 Our leadership, this course

This is a course that seeks to develop your understanding of leadership and begins the task of helping you develop your leadership practice. The work is continued, with more of an emphasis on practice, in our other optional leadership course, Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Both of these courses are aimed at anyone working in or around voluntary organisations – people employed by them, people who volunteer for them and people who run them. Why such a broad base of people? Because it is our case that we can help build leadership, we can all invest leadership with meaning, as long as we learn to think differently and more ambitiously. We will make the case in these courses that leadership is something that many people can contribute to − that leadership should be thought of as a practice, as something we nurture, feed and critically reflect upon, rather than as some personality characteristics possessed by a particular person or collection of people. This course will help you feed and nurture a practice that can be shared between a number of people.

Throughout the course, the terms ‘voluntary sector’ and ‘voluntary organisations’ have been used. We recognise that others will prefer the terms ‘third sector’, ‘civil society’ and ‘nonprofit organisations’. In many cases, the terms will be transferable in terms of the key learning points. However, we encourage you to reflect on how and where different sector labels have implications for leadership thinking and practice. Both courses have been written from a UK perspective and primarily with UK case study content. If you are studying from outside the UK, then we encourage you to reflect on differences and similarities in your own context. Take time to look for local case studies that illustrate (or challenge) key learning points, and compare and contrast sector practices and identity in the UK with your own context.

Week 1 introduces the concepts of leadership and management, and invites you to reflect on your existing knowledge of what these terms mean. You will also be offered a definition of leadership and be invited to judge it.

In Week 2 you will begin to explore leadership as person. This position holds that leadership is equated to the characteristics and behaviours of certain people. Rather than focus on individual leaders as role models for leadership, you will instead be urged to think of leaders as symbolic resources that can teach us a lot about what the sector does and does not value.

In Week 3 you will explore leadership as person in more depth. The focus will be upon the most influential of leadership perspectives, transformational leadership. You will explore some of the underlying problems with ceding too much authority to people in positions of leadership. Leadership as person will be turned on its head and you will reflect on what kind of symbolic leaders might be made to matter for the voluntary sector.

In Week 4 you will explore leadership as ethics. Our account of leadership as ethics explores the work a purpose can do within leadership and urges that such purposes become the sites of contest and healthy debate. This week also introduces the idea of the ethical dilemmas – how you work through them and after them in leadership.

In Week 5 you will explore leadership as practice. Focusing on practice draws your attention to the work of leadership, rather than the personality of leaders. You will focus on three dimensions of leadership practice – processes, spaces and technologies. You will explore how these dimensions can act as points for reflection but also brought together in interesting ways to generate new approaches to leadership practice.

Please take our survey about this course to give us feedback, inform future work, and have the (optional) opportunity to get more involved if you are interested. You do not need to have finished studying this course in order to take the survey.