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Working with ActionAid’s leaders on sharpening their leadership frames and capabilities: some observations.

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I just returned from a week of leadership development training with 21 senior leaders of ActionAid International, in Arusha, Tanzania. This was the TNGO Initiative’s first foray into delivering customized, in-house leadership development programming to an NGO client – of which we hope to do more in the future. Catherine Gerard, Director of PARCC and deputy director of Maxwell’s Executive Education and I co-delivered the training.

It was a fascinating week of interaction with ActionAid colleagues about their organizational identity, culture, individual leadership trait preferences, capabilities and gaps therein. As requested by ActionAid, we focused our programming on:

  • internal as well as external drivers for change in AAI;
  • creating greater self-awareness about individual leadership traits and characteristics through the application of a multitude of individual assessments;
  • how leaders can choose strategic behaviors;
  • skill building around the team leader as mentor as well as facilitator;
  • conflict management approaches;
  • leading and managing change both from a macro-organizational as well as micro level;
  • methods for persuasion, influencing and negotiation; 
  • strategic alignment across the organization -- cascading down from AAI’s global strategy;
  • organizational form, design and choices that leaders have;
  • national board building and management;
  • motivation needs among once’ s team members;
  • and finally how leaders can affect organizational culture.  

All of this was achieved through, among others, many case studies, simulations and individual as well as small group work. 

It is impossible to do justice to what Catherine Gerard and I learned across the week. A few things that stand out: first, the need to identify strengths in one’s organizational identity and values, but also gaps between espoused values and actual behaviors. Also, the realization that leaders in NGOs who engage in political engagement through a Rights Based Approach and its accompanying campaigning and advocacy work such as ActionAid also need to sharpen their individual political and symbolic types of leadership capabilities (‘positive politics’).  Finally, that collaborative   approaches to team work but also to bridging the differences of opinion that typically exist in any organization can usefully be expanded by learning about differences in conflict management between collaboration (based on the identification of interests), compromise and other approaches. 

The week also confirmed the importance of assessing one’s individual leadership style and its levels of flexibility – the extent to which leaders are able to choose strategic behaviors.

We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were happy to learn that ActionAid colleagues evaluated the experience as a very positive one. Hopefully we can continue this type of leadership work!

 

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