Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

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Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

1 Identity and participation

You were introduced to Ellen, the CEO of a local family support project, Family Time, in Week 1. Listen to the following extract from Ellen’s story:

Download this audio clip.Audio player: declvo_1_audio_week2_ellen.mp3
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It's been a few months now that I've been in post. More than anything, I suppose I'm struck by the differences between how Family Time people go about their work every day, and the council team that I've not long left behind.
At the council, staff time and priorities were-- how shall I say this? Closely monitored. You know, actions recorded through daily record sheets. And staff used to complain all the time that they didn't have enough discretion to act on their own initiative, or beyond what we had to do because of our statutory obligations. And sure, they worked very long hours to support clients, and were usually relieved to go home at the end of the day to decompress, you know.
Being a senior officer at the council developed me in lots of ways, I think. One of these is that I got better at seeing the world politically. Good evidence is very important, obviously. But on its own, it's just not enough, if you want some proper change.
And it's not like one thing, politics, is bad, and the other, evidence, is good. No. I came around to seeing the world like our local politicians, you know? These are people who care about their communities. Their views on how to tackle problems might differ from mine, but the end goal was very similar. You have to be able to build a political consensus for change in policy. Otherwise, you just can't get to that safe and caring and productive environment for children.
Now, Family Time. There was a lot of discretion here in determining which families got offered support and how. The staff here were very flexible with their part-time hours. And, you know, let's face it, they nearly always worked longer hours than they were paid for. No formal record of that, of course.
But I just know from informal chats and keeping an eye on things myself, they kept really minimal notes of their interactions with families. And, you know, they were local, right? So it's really normal to bump into these families on the street, around the local town.
I love that the staff and volunteers here were so supportive of each other-- always doing stuff together socially. I mean, real pals who knew each other before Family Time via the church and other things. And whenever Family Time had special events, the staff didn't come reluctantly. They really came enthusiastically, and they brought along a bunch of their personal contacts and friends, which was a great way of recruiting volunteers. They had those contacts with local schools and community groups and counsellors, part of the community.
I know that if head teachers were worried about a child, they would often call Family Time to work with a family, because they were trusted. There was a local children's centre that provided premises for weekly free play sessions-- so important for these children.
I think everyone-- the trustees, staff, the volunteers-- openly say, like a badge of honour, that the organisation is built on trust and personal relationships, not bureaucracy. And I really get that. You know, I'm a mum, too, and I love kids. I can't stand it when I see children suffering some injustice, or, you know, just sadness, I suppose. You see a lot of things in this job, and you can't unsee them. These organisations, they have to work for children.
So, you know, I can see that these are obviously very different ways of working. Both have strengths and weaknesses. I'm not daft. I mean, I don't want to break something that's really working well. But there's stuff that we could do much better here, too. I know, though, that I've been brought in here for a reason-- to grow and professionalise the operation-- but of course, without completely losing that magic, that really relational, embedded in the community side of things that's been so important.
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Listening to this extract, you should develop a good sense of the following, crucial dimensions of the leadership fabric that acts as context to the challenges facing Ellen:

  • how Family Time is seen as an organisation;
  • how Ellen is seen as a leader;
  • how Family Time’s staff view their work and themselves in that work;
  • how local government workers view their work and themselves in that work;
  • the webs of practices employed by Family Time in its everyday work.

We summarise and capture these dynamics as related to two substantive dimensions of leadership: identity and participation. It is these dimensions that shape how we approach this course. This week will be dedicated to providing you with a primer on both.


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