Brussels and London – Aid and development organizations are experts at logistics and mobilization, but their impact is often limited by weak leadership capacity and communication problems, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) finds in a new survey of the sector.
Leadership and Talent Development in International Humanitarian and Development Organizations, a report from CCL and People In Aid, is based on interviews with organizations in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States. It gives a snapshot of the issues and expectations around leadership and talent management within this vitally important sector.
“The report is written in the words of the people who make it work, who see the problems, face up to the issues and try to make their organizations a little better every day,” says Rudi Plettinx, Vice President and Managing Director for Europe, Middle East & Africa at the Center for Creative Leadership: “It reveals that across the sector, people are already rethinking who they are and what they do in the face of global economic upheaval and an unprecedented confluence of wars and natural disasters.”
Amongst the report’s findings:
- Although technically sound, aid and development operations often struggle and fail because of “people issues.” In other words, leadership is lacking, or concentrated in too few individuals with the wrong skills and training.
- The No. 1 failure of leadership at every level was lack of communication — up, down, and sideways. Part of that was a consistent failure to have “courageous conversations” and deal with poor performers.
- Ironically, there was also an issue of too much communication facilitated by social networking media, which makes it difficult if not impossible to convey accurate messages and prevent damaging rumours from circulating around the world.
- Leadership recruitment and retention challenges — and competition with the private sector – were also top concerns. But there’s evidence that as a result of the financial meltdown, the not-for-profit sector now looks more attractive to top performers, for job satisfaction as well as job security.
The recession hit the international aid and development sector hard but the upside was that it forced a more realistic assessment of leadership needs. The report reveals that the smartest organizations made cut-backs but kept at least some training and development going even in the darkest days of the economic downturn.
“This moment in time is critical,” warns Ben Emmens, People in Aid’s Director of HR Services. “There is a closing window of opportunity for bold decisions to be made by organizations and their leaders in response to the uncertain economic outlook, a challenging operating environment, and ever increasing calls for accountability and transparency.”
CCL Executive Vice President for Research & Innovation David Altman concludes: “Successful international NGOs are adept at innovation in the face of challenge and change, and this report shows their recognition that leadership development is crucial. As one of our Leadership Beyond Boundaries participants in Uganda said: ‘Where you come from, this leadership training may result in better management and better business practices. Here in Uganda, this teaching has the potential to save lives.'”