Preparing to Make A Leadership “Leap”?


NGO practitioners and scholars alike are interested to examine NGO leadership and their “agency to drive dramatic and useful change." One of these challenges is leadership in transition: how to prepare incoming TNGO leaders for top leadership in governing their organizations as well as the sector. The label “change agent," readily applied to transnational NGO leaders in individual cases and small samples, might give the impression that there is a one-size-fits-all, "best practice" style of NGO/Network leadership that leaders in transition should strive for. But the ingredients of leadership—leadership style, context, situations, and those who are led—play an important part in envisioning what type of transition is possible for what type of leaders in what context. Assessing and facilitating effective matches between leaders in transition—moving from one arena of leadership to another—and the demands for more variation in effective top leadership solutions to civil society governance thus becomes an important piece of the transition puzzle.

The Transnational NGO Leadership Institute

The Transnational NGO Leadership Institute aims to support incoming NGO leaders by offering a set of related sessions within its "signature program" on transitioning towards top leadership. The sessions will offer an analytical framework to think about leadership, as well as concrete services related to individual leadership assessment, styles and matching methods, exercises and case discussions. With this in hand, participants can assess the influence of their leadership styles on the challenges and opportunities they are likely to face in governing their civil society organizations, the sector as whole, and in influencing global governance. In addition, the program centers around the question: when leaders transition to top leadership, what types of "leaps" do they need to make, in terms of knowledge, skills and leadership behaviors? Five "leap issues", which were identified by our internal and external Steering Groups consisting of NGO leaders and Maxwell scholars, will thus be the focus of the program.


Broad program components

The five-day program is conceived with the following individual, organizational and environmental/political dimensions in mind:

1. Individual dimensions | Understanding and anticipating the effects of individual leadership styles on decision-making related to transition issues and the “leap issues” which incoming leaders need to grapple with;

2. Organizational dimensions | Organizational and (cross) sectoral challenges and opportunities from a “bird’s eye view” of top leadership; and

3. Environmental and political dimensions | The need to balance, shape, negotiate and influence the external environment, external constituents, political actors, but also values, vision, organizational culture, symbolic and political leadership requirements internal to the organization.

The aim of the program is to prepare leaders for both the substance and the process of the leadership transition. The flow of the program is meant to gradually build awareness from individual to organizational to broader governance dimensions, and then back again to give participants a better sense of the situational nature of leadership transition. We provide framing of the so called "leap issues," assessment tools and teaching tools, experimental learning opportunities, and practical applications, exercises, and simulations. These will target both analytical and creative qualities, which participants can then apply and tailor to the specific circumstances of their own leadership transition.

To guide the process during the program, five key leadership challenges and opportunities that top leaders need to grapple with will serve as substantive topics (the so called ‘Leap Issues’):

  1. Leading in a complex context: the impact of your individual leadership styles; strategic leadership behavior choices that increase your effectiveness; the leader as learner; leadership vs. management; the broader landscape of actors and issues; your personal preparation for making the next ‘leadership leap’
  2. Collaboration and Crisis: the leader as communicator, team facilitator and mentor; collaborative leadership skills; leadership in crisis situations; leadership and stress
  3. Politics, Power Relationships, Negotiation and Persuasion: leadership from a political frame; compromise versus collaboration
  4. Leading and Managing Organizational Change: leading dramatic useful change and managing organizational change processes
  5. Strategic Decision-Making and Performance Management: emergent versus planned strategies; resource planning, allocation and management

The "Leap Issues" will be discussed, analyzed and weighed in terms of competing values and priorities in plenary sessions followed by individual or group application exercises. During the plenary sessions, the substantive presentations and discussions will be facilitated by select Maxwell School faculty and professional staff, who will always be complemented by seasoned top NGO leaders who have gone through the leadership transition towards top leadership themselves and will present their own personal and organizational case study as well their experience as part of a session.

In addition, individual study as well as small study groups may also be used throughout the program. We will also set aside time for experiential and creative activities that integrate learning, and participants will have free, unstructured time for networking, relaxation, and urgent 'home office' tasks.

Individualized leadership assessment

A pillar of our approach to leadership development is the unique individualized, customized leadership assessment service we offer which, first, will provide participants detailed insights into their particular leadership traits, assets and characteristics and secondly their preference for situational leadership. The trait/style assessment makes use of well-known psychological tools (Myers Briggs, Communication at Work Profile, Conflict Management Style, Motivation Needs and others), plus a leadership style framework developed over thirty years by the Maxwell School. Participants will gain unique insights into their specific leadership strengths and development or transition needs and the match between their particular leadership approach and the vision, values, and needs of the organization. This self-awareness and critical reflection is an important beginning to the program. Participants will learn what they individually bring to leadership and develop a common foundation for learning as a group.

Maxwell faculty/staff will develop a profile of each participant based on the results of the assessments described above and meet with participants to discuss their results individually or in small groups (as time allows). Participants will have the opportunity to reflect on the implications of their style for their success as leaders.

Second, leadership is not only based on one’s personality but also requires strategic choices by individuals of leadership behaviors that match the situation. Organizations in change require leaders who are flexible and adaptable in their approach. Maxwell will engage participants in using a situational model of leadership (based on the work by the authors Bolman and Deal), called the ‘Four Frames’. Leadership Institute participants will first assess their own framing of leadership and then, through cases and exercises, develop the ability to analyze which frames are appropriate for which situation. The Four Frames are structural, human resource, political and symbolic modes of leadership.

Participant interaction prior to attending the Institute

In advance of the five day program, once participants have registered, we will interact with you in the following ways:

We will offer some suggested readings around the main "leap issues" and their main subcomponents as a way for participants to prepare their thoughts before attending.

As part of the individual leadership assessment service which we will offer, participants will fill in several personality and leadership tests ahead of their arrival; these as well as assessment exercises during the Institute and analysis of participants‟ writings will be the basis for our individual leadership style analysis. The results of those will be shared with participants in individual sessions during the Program, and may, at an aggregated level, be discussed during a plenary or small group session, when we compare the attendees as a leadership cohort with leadership traits of a cohort of 152 leaders of US-registered NGOs which we have interviewed in the context of recently completed TNGO Initiative research.

We will ask participants to articulate a few individual, personal leadership goals before they attend the program. In addition, participants will be encouraged to ‘interview’ their CEOs about the things that person wished they had known before they became a CEO. Once arrived, participants will keep track of what they learn on a daily basis in terms of their personal leadership goals, and they will be asked to present their goals to the group at the end of the program.

Participant interaction after having attended the Institute

After participants have attended the Institute, as 'alumni' they will be encouraged to continue to share, network and learn through the Leadership Institute LinkedIn group and listserv. In return for receiving a Leadership Institute Certificate, participants will also be asked, approximately six to twelve months after their attendance, to fill in a mid-term evaluation in which they reflect on how they have applied their new insights and learning on one or more of the "leap issues" and/or as a result of having received their personal leadership traits assessment. We will also ‘mirror back’ their personal leadership goals back to them at this point, to help participants assess their progress. These reflections will further reinforce learning in participants while giving the

Transnational NGO Initiative useful feedback to inform future training programs as well as research.