Emerging leaders: Training the next chief executives

As well as supporting the current crop of voluntary sector chief executives, Acevo is helping to develop the next generation of leaders. Andy Hillier reports

Future leaders: Acevo's programmes help to prepare people for senior management
Future leaders: Acevo's programmes help to prepare people for senior management

Kate Groucutt, deputy chief executive of the childcare charity the Daycare Trust, is eager to become a charity chief executive one day.

She has spent most of her career working in the policy departments of charities but has recently begun to take steps that she hopes will lead to a chief executive appointment. She has taken on additional duties since accepting the deputy chief executive role, and has just completed the Emerging Leaders Programme, run by Acevo.

Groucutt says the leadership programme gave her an opportunity to expand her knowledge. "I have had a broad exposure to the different roles in charities," she says. "But there are some gaps. The course has also helped me to think more about my own motivations and values."

The programme runs for 10 weeks and includes workshops, online modules, coaching and support, which participants fit around their jobs and other commitments.

Jenny Berry, director of leadership development at Acevo, says the programme has been designed for people who, like Groucutt, already hold senior management roles in charities and want to go further, and for professionals working in different sectors who would like to become senior managers in the voluntary sector.

Acevo training programmes"We've had people attend who aren't in senior management teams, but who have been talent-spotted by their managers," she says.

The programme runs twice a year - in May and September - with about 35 places available in total. Places cost between £1,100 and £1,500 depending on whether the individual is an Acevo member or not, and a limited number of bursaries of up to £500 are available.

Berry says the course doesn't try to teach people everything they need to know to become a senior manager, but provides them with a framework of the types of knowledge and skills they will need and helps them to identify areas where they need to improve. "You will often find that people have come through the ranks and know all about their charity and its aims but don't necessarily have transferable skills," she says. "They might, for example, need to do a finance skills course or have some PR training."

The programme is divided into five units: an introduction to leadership, identifying your personal goals, leadership and communication, leading from the inside out, and developing a leadership plan.

Groucutt says she particularly valued the face-to-face workshop sessions, which included a question-and-answer session with an experienced third sector chief executive. "We were given some useful advice, such as not worrying too much about taking decisions on issues you don't know much about," she says. "You need to learn to rely on your team."

Groucutt says the programme helped to reinforce the difference between leadership and management. "When you're a manager, you tend to spend all of your time dealing with the detail," she says. "But when you're leading an organisation, you need to take time to step back and look beyond the mundane."

The Emerging Leaders Programme was once known as the Next Generation Programme, but it was renamed in 2011 when the content was updated. Among the innovations has been the wider use of online learning and telephone mentor support. Berry says that the new approach has proved popular with participants: "The online and phone coaching has gone down really well. Now people can receive calls in the evening, when they will have the chance to focus on the programme."

Acevo training programmesBut she concedes that the programme is demanding because it takes up a lot of the participants' spare time over the 10-week period. "Some people find it a bit of juggling act," she says. "If they're a carer or volunteer at the weekends, it can be particularly difficult to fit the programme around existing commitments." But she believes the rewards are worth it.

At least two people who have taken part in recent programmes have gone on to become chief executives. The majority of participants say they feel better prepared for the challenges of senior management after completing the course.

Teresa Nightingale, general manager of the World Cancer Research Fund, took part in the Next Generation Programme in 2010 and says it was a help. "I've always been proactive when it comes to developing my knowledge," she says. "But it was useful to talk about issues such as managing change and the best ways of working with people."

Nightingale, who comes from a fundraising background, has used a number of tools from the course to help with, among other things, developing her charity's overall strategy and budget. She also continues to use the LinkedIn group that was set up when she did the programme. She says: "It has been really useful to get that peer-to-peer support."

- Read other articles about how Acevo has evolved over the last 25 years, including an interview with Sir Stephen Bubb

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