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Leadership Trends in the Social Sector

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In our Leaders on Leaders series, Karen Greenbaum explores today's top trends impacting global leadership with leaders from the world's top executive search and leadership advisory firms.

In this episode, Karen speaks with Jo Fisher, Managing Director of Fisher Leadership

Below is a brief excerpt.

KAREN: Today, we’ll be discussing executive talent trends in the social goods sector. I’m joined today by Jo Fisher, Managing Director of Fisher Leadership. Jo, you work with organizations and leaders across the broad social goods sector. Tell us about your firm and your focus.

JO: Yes. Thanks, Karen. Fisher Leadership is the largest executive search and talent advisory firm specializing in the social impact sectors.  And we work across Australia and also the Asia Pacific region. These sectors are focused in education, healthcare, government, and not-for-profit, and it's very much about our success in helping design, appoint and then develop value-driven, positive leaders. And we’re working right across Australia and New Zealand and then into the Asia Pacific.

KAREN: What are some of the sought-after skills and attributes for leaders who could be successful in the sector today?

JO: The most essential attribute of leaders in the social purpose sectors [today] are really that fundamental motivation and drive to find and give meaning to the work that they lead and the work that they do […] whether we’re talking about a vice chancellor and president of a university or the CEO of a disability service, or the director general of a health department, or the chief [defense scientist] of a nation; these are all social impact organizations.

[…] When we think about the skills and attributes that really are required, it's like many other leadership roles – emotional agility, flexible thinking, vision, high integrity, and of course, the right values set. It's also knowing how to lead and manage, say, a volunteer workforce, or in a university work with academics, or in a hospital working with doctors. There’s quite a range of personalities and profiles that are not different from the for-profit sector in the workforce. And so that would be some of the fundamental attributes and skills that we look for.

KAREN: Tell me a little bit about how is technology impacting the sector that you operate in. And how are the most successful organizations responding?

JO: Obviously, technology is impacting every sector and social impact-related organizations are not exceptions. If we think about the not-for-profit sector, which includes charities and foundations, the role of fundraising has drastically changed through social media and digital crowdfunding sources and online loyalty programs. And so the approach needs to be very different by the leader and by the organization and so often it’s moved a long way from door-to-door donation collectors or raffle tickets. And if we think about the education sector, the whole area of global online learning and blended learning delivery of courses online […], it's truly changed what the customer - the student -  demands, and therefore what the educational institution has to deliver. In healthcare, technology breakthroughs are very much about facilitating research, commercialization and medical discovery. Digital health records for the individuals, for instance, are challenging privacy and confidentiality boundaries, so there the impact of technology is very significant.

If I think about the most successful organizations in a sector, they’re really considering the relevance and the range of technologies that are specific to their businesses, and they all have to think about risk mitigation and compliance issues around software security and AI, and constantly emerging technologies. And they just really need to be prepared to look ahead and to ensure that they’re planning for the widespread use of things.

KAREN: Obviously, in your sector, mission is critical. How can today’s business leaders foster a mission-driven culture?

JO: Absolutely, mission is fundamental to the sectors that our executives and our C-Suite appointees are in. I think they’re very aware that the younger generation workforce are very mission-driven and therefore the future workforce is mission-driven. And so helping them to proactively find purpose and meaning in their work is what it's about. It can’t be just lip service. It needs to be building on the people’s strengths rather than their gaps, and leading by example in a positive leadership way.

It also probably means giving often and fostering the talent in the organization and helping them stretch their capabilities to transition across various parts of the organization so that they get the range of experience. But at the end of the day, it's all about living and demonstrating that mission as a leader.

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