There is "significant confusion" about the idea of leadership in the charity sector, a research report by the Clore Social Leadership programme says.
But despite the lack of understanding around leadership, the report says there is "an abundance of untapped potential" for leadership development in the sector.
The report, Talking Leadership, published today, comprises interviews with more than 50 chief executives and senior leaders from charities and related organisations.
It says that the three principal barriers to leadership development are cost, time and confusion.
Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Clore Social Leadership, told Third Sector that, although the issues of cost and time were fairly straightforward, the issue around confusion was more complex.
"The first area of confusion is around what leadership actually is," she said. "How is it different from management? What are the technical skills you need to be a good leader? And what emotional intelligence do you need?"
The report argues that the public perception of leadership remains associated with status and hierarchy.
"The image of a heroic leader, often associated with masculinity, circulates powerfully, reinforcing a sense that leadership and leadership development are elitist and only for certain people," it says.
Ghosh said there was also an idea that leadership development was only about one individual within an organisation.
"We know people go to leadership programmes, they’ll be transformed as individuals and then they'll go back into the workplace and the workplace won’t have changed," she said.
"So there is confusion about how much of leadership is about the individual’s transformation and how much is about the need for the culture to change so that leaders can really thrive."
Ghosh also warned that leadership development was "not a one-time fix and at different stages in your leadership career you need different development", but working out what was available at different levels was confusing.
But she added that she had been amazed by how strong the potential was for leadership development in the sector.
"The thing that comes out is that a lot of people who are great leaders have not had formal leadership development," she said. "They’ve become so because someone tapped them on the shoulder or mentored them or gave them an amazing book to read."
Ghosh said many leaders were willing to provide such mentoring for others, and the challenge now was to find a way to connect those who wanted development with those who were willing to provide it.
She added that providers of more formal leadership training needed to find ways to drive down costs, but organisations and their funders needed to recognise that investment in leadership development would lead to benefits for charities and their beneficiaries.