Leadership Trends in the Social Sector


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

KAREN: Welcome to the Leaders on Leaders series from the Global Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. I’m Karen Greenbaum, AESC President and CEO. In Leaders on Leaders, we explore today’s top leadership trends impacting global business with leaders from the world’s top executive search and leadership advisory firms. 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. Well, 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. 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 [accounts].

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 that 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. No matter 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. The [Unintelligible] in these sectors are driven to contribute to making a difference, and their work fundamentally is about making a positive impact on society.

When we think about the skills and attributes that really are required, it's like many other leadership roles – emotional agility, flexible thinking and vision, high integrity, and of course, the right values set, and 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. So that would be some of the fundamental attributes and skills that we look for.

KAREN: So a really interesting set of attributes and the whole value-driven approach is interesting, but there is probably something that you share with others and that is the fact that technology is impacting these organizations. Tell me a little bit about how technology is impacting the sector that you operate in, and how are the most successful organizations responding?

JO: Yes, sure. Obviously, technology is impacting every sector and social impact-related organizations are not exceptions. If [we’re talking 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, so the approach needs to be very different by the leader and by the organization that [so often] moves a long way from door-to-door donation collectors or raffle tickets, and if we think about the education sector, the whole area or global online learning and blended learning delivery of courses online like [Unintelligible], 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, so 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: That was fascinating and I actually learned a lot from your answers, so thank you for that. 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 [Unintelligible] appointees are in, so I think they’re very aware that the younger generation workforce are very mission-driven and therefore the future workforce is mission-driven, 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.

KAREN: In terms of your sector, the other thing that comes up in everything we do is diversity. What role does diversity play in your sector and also in driving innovation?

JO: Yes, leadership diversity and diversity generally is a really hot topic across Australasia and I must say, and always gender diversity leaps to mind. And there are still women at the top, but there’s also more of a focus in the social goods sector around culture and linguistic diversity on boards and executive teams.

We believe that as executive search professionals, we’ve got a huge responsibility to help our clients seek out, appoint, encourage, and support candidates and leaders from diverse backgrounds. And this not only includes gender and race, but age and disability and LGBTQI. So, it's our responsibility for all of us to help our clients diversify their teams and their executive leadership.

KAREN: Excellent. One final question for you, what should today’s CEOs and boards know about how they can attract top talent?

JO: I think today’s successful CEOs know that the key to their success and to the organization’s success, and whether that’s in the social impact sectors or in other sectors, is all about supporting and building on the strength of their workforce. It's about encouraging the growth mindset. It's about enabling people to drive by drawing on their own talents and capabilities, and always making sure that the right people are in the right job, so, ultimately, the individuals and the teams and the organization can flourish.

KAREN: Jo, thank you very much for taking the time today to share your insights. Listeners, thank you for joining us for Leaders on Leaders. For our next Leaders on Leaders discussion, stay tuned to aesc.org. Thank you and have a great day.

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