Courses need to teach sector leaders about the value of following their 'moral compass', says NCVO chief

Sir Stuart Etherington tells a London event that leadership development courses should provide more guidance on how to make difficult judgement calls

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

>This article has been amended; see final paragraph

Charity sector leaders need to be taught about the value of following their "moral compasses", Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of the Open University Business School’s Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership in London, Etherington said he believed the biggest deficit in leadership development among charities was how to address moral questions.

"Where I think something is missing in leadership development is not the technical skills," he said. "Most people get an MBA or acquire the technical skills needed to be a manager along the way, but I think the real issue is about moral compasses in leadership.

"Some of the dilemmas leaders are faced with at the most senior levels in organisations are moral questions about how you make difficult judgement calls on issues."

Etherington said that last year’s fundraising crisis – he led a government-commissioned review on the issue – raised a number of questions about leadership in the sector. "People were prepared to generate more and more income from fewer and fewer people, and no one asked any serious moral questions about what that meant," he said. "Now, because of the press exposure, they are asking some moral questions."

He said the sector had some excellent emerging leaders, some of whom were already running large organisations, such as Matt Hyde, chief executive of the Scout Association and Julie Bentley, chief executive of Girlguiding.

He said even the greatest leaders, including Winston Churchill, would struggle to cope with the 24-hour media scrutiny that modern leaders now faced.

At the event, Etherington  expressed his concerns about the demands placed on trustees after the fundraising crisis and the collapse of Kids Company. "We have to be cautious because 99 per cent of these people are volunteers," he said. "If we put too much pressure on them they will walk and we won’t be able to attract people to this wonderful lifeblood function in the charity sector."

Speaking at the same event, Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, advised against charities loading their trustee boards with successful businesspeople.

"There’s a sense that if you work in the private sector you must be good," she said. "But in my experience, some of the worst people on trustee boards have come from big business."

>The headline of this article has been amended to better reflect the comments made.

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