Opinion: Third Voice - Leadership in our sector has nothing to do with ego

Stephen Bubb's coaching sessions have become increasingly bizarre.

Recently, he said voluntary sector leaders need not be nice, that it is better to be feared than loved and that avoiding displays of ego is itself "a monstrous conceit".

Our sector cannot rely on pay as people's motivation, so a positive working culture is more important to high performance than in the private sector.

This requires six things of a leader. The first five are: treating human resources as humans; fulfilling your commitments; valuing differing views; showing that decisions are based on reason, not just rank; and setting and adhering to values. But they will all be undone if you break the sixth rule - no ego.

'No-ego leadership' means showing it is good to acknowledge, and therefore to learn from, mistakes. It means 'walking the floor' and basing your decisions on the best idea, no matter who it comes from, so that anyone can have an impact on an organisation's direction. This means listening.

As the historian Andrew Roberts wrote of Churchill: "Truly great leaders understand how vital it is to listen to people who disagree with them."

Bosses who inspire loyalty don't boast about how long they work and don't reward a 'macho hours' culture. They never complain about their lot to, or seek compliments from, the people they manage. They take responsibility for failure, but share credit for success.

Think about language too: "my team", "my members" or "up the line" reinforce a sense of them and us. So too does the 'top-down' staff chart with the chief executive at the top and less-heralded posts at the bottom. Why not make it read left to right?

Of course, organisations need vision and drive. At Julia's House we want to be successful, but this means more than achieving goals. It means keeping morale high and staff turnover low so that we retain and involve talented people.

The private sector is a money culture in which the subtleties of motivation have little currency. The public sector fails to 'get it' when we talk about managing people, and politicians live in a blame culture, making most of them poor leaders.

The voluntary sector, more than any other, knows about the kind of leadership that makes everyone feel valued and wanting to contribute their all.

- Martin Edwards is chief executive of Julia's House, Dorset Children's Hospice Service and writes for the leadership site trustedleader.org.

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