Book review: The crisis of third sector leadership

Stephen Cook reviews Public and Third Sector Leadership: Experience Speaks by Brian Howieson and Julie Hodges, which takes a collaborative approach to management advice

Many books about leadership are written by gurus who have worked out a new approach that will solve all your problems and put your working life on a new trajectory. They're catchily titled, breezily written and - thankfully - quite brief.

Apart from its brevity (212 pages) this book is not like that. It has a straightforward title, does not offer glib answers and demands your full attention; so it's not a light bedtime read.

The method of the authors, both academics, is to invite more than 40 practitioners in the public and third sectors to write about their personal experiences of leadership, and then to analyse what the contributors say and attempt to draw out general messages and principles.

Their conclusion is that there is an underlying sense that leaders in the third sector face a crisis, caused by constant turbulence and disruption, that they are not equipped for. They increasingly have to adopt business methods to achieve social purpose, so they need to understand how the private sector works; and at the same time their terms of engagement with the public sector are changing.

Mike Finlayson, chief executive of the Edinburgh social enterprise Forth Sector, summarises this here as "businesses putting on the sheep's clothing of the third sector and the third sector putting on the wolf's clothing of the private sector, while the public sector seems undecided and is trying on both".

Much of the book's interest lies in the detailed and varied accounts of how contributors perceive leadership, and in the authors' conclusion that its role in the sector needs to be reassessed, perhaps through a "tri-sector leadership" model geared to better collaboration between all three sectors.

Public and Third Sector Leadership: Experience Speaks, by Brian Howieson and Julie Hodges, published by Emerald, £66.95 hardback

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