What Social Sector Leaders Need to Succeed

Chronic underinvestment is placing increasing demands on social-sector leaders. New research suggests ways they can meet the leadership challenge.

October 2012 | by Robert Emmerich

It’s no secret that high-performing leadership is synonymous with private-sector success. Nor is there any shortage of research into the leadership qualities that matter most, their potential impact on financial performance, and the importance of investments in leadership development. But what about leadership quality and development in the fast-growing social sector?  

The Building Blocks of Change

Large-scale organizational change has always been difficult, and there’s no shortage of research showing that a majority of transformations continue to fail. Today’s dynamic environment adds an extra level of urgency and complexity. Organizations must increasingly react to sudden shifts in the marketplace, to other external shocks, and to the imperatives of new business models. The stakes are higher than ever.

So what’s to be done? In both research and practice, we find that transformations stand the best chance of success when they focus on four key actions to change mind-sets and behavior: fostering understanding and conviction, reinforcing changes through formal mechanisms, developing talent and skills, and role modeling.

Digital technologies and the changing nature of the workforce have created new opportunities and challenges for the influence model.

These three actions—committing more funds for leadership development, targeting the resources leaders say they need, and securing increased mentoring and coaching from the private sector—are near-term remedies to address the leadership-development gap in the social sector. Chronic, long-standing underinvestment in social-sector leadership isn’t a problem that will be solved overnight, however. More research on the most effective ways to meet the leadership challenge will prompt other innovative responses. Greater understanding of the leadership gap and how to solve it is critical: business and government need the social sector to succeed at innovating and scaling social-service delivery solutions. Leadership matters.


Executive Editor

Ms Anna Sullivan

Ms Anna Sullivan