Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

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Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

1 Ellen reflects on difference

Listen to another extract from Ellen’s story.

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A tough day. It was my first experience of Family Time's six-monthly whole organisation meetings today. That means staff, volunteers and trustees all in the room together. And it makes for an interesting mix, believe me.
The volunteers don't want changes. They want to be free to give their time and skills as works best for them. And you know what? That is completely understandable. But it might not work with the changes that I see coming. I could see a couple of them looking over at me a bit suspiciously, as if to check I'm not here to turn Family Time into a branch of social services or something.
Two of the trustees were present. And I felt as if, well, they had quite a different agenda, looking to me to make changes and quickly as well. And then the staff team just looked anxious, to be honest. I don't know what's going on there. And I don't know if there's something I don't know.
I felt a little bit like a parent trying to chivvy along some unruly extended family who were looking to me for reassurance. And after that lot, I would have quite liked to slip out for a quiet lunch, or at least a Marks and Sparks sandwich. But the trustees wanted to talk over the meeting after the meeting.
And it didn't feel like a talk to me. It felt like a lecture, telling me how I needed to take a professional stance, to tell staff and volunteers that change is inevitable and force small professional working practices. And I was exhausted by the end of it all. And finished the day with some boring paperwork for a bit of light relief, to be perfectly honest.
And then driving home I began to think about what it means to have moved from being just a social worker to chief exec. And I guess I'd forgotten all the assumptions I make as a social worker. I've stopped questioning the things that matter to me, the ways of working, the accountability and line management.
And of course, I'm an inveterate people reader-- I just can't help it. It becomes second nature when you're working with vulnerable people. But I might have to stop subjecting everyone here to the same scrutiny. I suppose I hadn't quite realised that I might need to change myself as well as the organisation.
End transcript
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Ellen is getting to grips with the difference she sees around her – in her organisation, within other organisations and in the communities in which Family Time works.

Rather than assuming that others are simply wrong or wrong-headed, she is trying to open herself up to the possibility that her own identity prevents her from seeing the full range of possibilities open to her and her organisation. We will later call the mindset in which Ellen is working a ‘bicameral orientation’.

That sounds technical but it is really just an orientation to everyday thinking where we are both passionately committed to our own identities but also maintain an openness to their limitations – and therefore to the legitimate positions of others. Key to thinking in this way, we will argue, is to develop the habit of critical reflection upon one’s own identity and positioning in the world.


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