Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Third Sector Obamas

What does Barack Obama mean for third sector leaders? Any leaders in fact. I have been obsessing over this ever since his election. Obama seems to easily answer the question of what good leadership looks like. A question which, somehow, can seem hard to answer when faced with the sea of ordinariness presented by many of our so-called leaders.

So what does he do? He raises one's sense of the possible. He makes one feel understood. He conveyes a sense that his purpose is really your purpose. He seems to transcend the limitations of what was previously seen as possible. He clearly stands for something greater than his own pursuit of power. Obama is not alone in having these qualities. What is unusual is that he has all of them in abundance.

Now, the third sector. How many Obama-like figures do we have? How many boards seek Obama-liked people to lead their organisations? How many people working in TSOs have CEOs who raise their motivation in the way that Obama lifts the Democrats?

The answer to all these questions is `Not Very Many'. Yet what would TSOs look like if they had leaders with the kind of qualities that Obama has shown?

I count myself as among the deficient. I have, over time, moved from being a leader to a manager and, of all the skills I have sought to develop, I have majored on the technical (understanding balance-sheets, HR, operations) rathe than the inspirational.

I know I am not alone. I think the necessities of the job sort of push you into these directions. It certainly changed me from the idealistic young man I was early on to a slightly harder-edged bloke with a big sense of life's limitations, a sense which, at times, drags my vision down with it.

Perhaps I am being a little hard on myself here. I do feel hope, I do still burn with an honest desire to make good things happen. But leading and inspiring others to join me, while once felt easy, is now more of an effort, knowing, as I do, just how hard it is.

And I guess Barack Obama knows how hard it is too. Yet where he is better than me - and most people - is that this knowledge isn't getting in his way.

That's why he inspires me.

No comments: