Leadership in Civic Sector
Kevin Kearns, Professor
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
University of Pittsburgh
March 11, 2009
• What are the most prominent theories and
models of leadership?
• Do civic sector organizations have unique
characteristics that demand certain leadership
skills and perspectives?
• What leadership challenges are civic sector
organizations likely to face in the foreseeable
What are Civic Sector
• Any organized entity that plays a mediating role between
individuals on the one hand and the state or the
marketplace on the other.
• Exist to channel the collective action of citizens who
share common values and interests that are distinct from
those of the state, family, or the market.
• Civic sector organizations may be characterized as
member serving or public serving
• Strong volunteer component
• Fill gaps in programs and services that are not provided
by the state or by the private marketplace
Traditional Theories of Leadership: Warren
Bennis and others
Leaders have the following skills, attributes and traits:
• Technical competence: Leaders must have professional literacy and competence in
• Conceptual skill: Leaders must have the ability to think abstractly and strategically.
• Track record: Effective leaders have a history of achieving outstanding results.
• People skills: Leaders should possess the ability to communicate, motivate, and
delegate to subordinates in order to efficiently achieve the objectives of the
• Taste: Leaders must be skilled in identifying and cultivating emerging talent within the
organization, possibly successors who will be able to assume leadership positions.
• Judgment: Leaders must be able to make difficult decisions in a short time frame
with imperfect data.
• Character: Leaders should demonstrate honor, integrity, and a commitment to
personal values and principles.
Leadership Behaviors (Bennis)
Leaders add value to an organization …:
• By providing workers and other stakeholders with meaning and
direction, a sense of passion and purpose to the enterprise, and
clear vision of goals and direction for the enterprise.
• By building trust with their followers, establishing and nurturing
“authentic relationships,” demonstrating truthfulness and candor in
their communication, and showing reliability and consistency in the
way they behave.
• By providing workers with a sense of hope and optimism,
displaying personal self-confidence and showing their energy and
commitment to the tasks at hand.
• By being catalysts for action, assuming reasonable risks and
demonstrating their courage and discipline for achieving stated
goals and objectives.
Problems with Traditional Theories
• Leader as “hero”
• Leader as “all knowing, all seeing”
• Leadership derived from hierarchical position:
– “the exercise of authority, whether formal or informal,
in directing and coordinating the work of others”
• Followers portrayed as helpless without the
• Leaders are “born” not “made”
Contemporary Theories of Leadership: Boundary
Spanning, Servant Leadership, and Level 5
• Leadership as process of persuasion versus
• Leading from the bottom as well as from the top
• Followers not construed as helpless, but actively
• Distinction between leaders and managers not
– … Every time I encounter utterly first-class managers
they turn out to have quite a lot of the leader in them
(Gardner, 2006, p. 19-20).
Boundary Spanning: John Gardner
• Horizon: Leaders think in longer term, beyond today’s problems and
challenges, beyond the horizon.
• Perspective: With respect to the unit they lead, leaders think of it in
larger perspective, as part of a larger enterprise, in relationship to
external conditions, and even in relation to global events and trends.
• External Constituencies: Leaders try to reach and influence
constituents beyond their jurisdiction, beyond the boundaries of the
• Intangibles: Leaders put heavy emphasis on intangible aspects of
influence such as vision, values, and motivation.
• Political Skill: Leaders have political skills to cope with the
conflicting demands of multiple constituencies.
• Renewal: Leaders think in terms of renewal, change, and helping
the organization to adapt to emerging opportunities and challenges
in the world outside.
Servant Leadership: Robert
The best leaders “serve” their followers rather than being served by them
• Building Community: Servant leadership is motivated by and evolves from a desire
to improve community. The leadership of institutions is viewed by servant leaders as
a means to that objective, not an end in itself.
• Stewardship: Servant leaders view themselves as stewards (caretakers) of precious
resources within the organization, including its mission, its people, and its money.
• Commitment to the growth of people: Servant leaders are committed to providing
opportunities for personal and professional growth.
• Healing: Servant leaders search for ways to bring ‘wholeness’ to the lives of those
they work with, encouraging them to balance work with other endeavors to ensure a
healthy and balanced life.
• Empathy: Servant leaders strive for patience, tolerance, and an understanding that
we are by our nature imperfect beings.
• Listening: The servant leader responds to a problem by listening first and attempting
to build strength in others.
• Service: Servant leaders are willing to stand aside and serve only when asked.
“Level 5” Leadership: Jim Collins
• Humility and Drive: Leaders of highly successful companies
displayed a blend of extreme personal modesty and humility with
intense professional drive and willpower.
• Channeled Ego: Leaders of these companies channel their ego
needs away from themselves and toward the larger goal of building
a great organization.
• Ambition Deflected: Leaders of successful companies are
ambitious for the organization, not for themselves.
• Capacity Building and Leadership Development: Leaders paved
the way for their successor by building the capacity for gradual and
sustained long-term success, not short-term dramatic gains.
• Workman-like: Leaders of successful companies have unwavering
resolve and a workman-like diligence to produce steady progress
• Accountability: Leaders take personal responsibility when things
go wrong, but they give credit to others when things go right.
Comparing Leadership Theories
Source of the Purpose of Strategy of the Metaphor for
Locus of leader Leader’s Power Leadership Leader Leadership
Traditional (top- Top of the Formal authority Develop the vision Induce followers to Hero
down) Leadership organizational (position) and and strategy for the embrace the Father
Models (Bennis) hierarchy knowledge organization and leader’s vision Orchestra
induce followers to conductor
Boundary Spanning Embedded within all Ability to span Help the Provide linkages Bridge builder
Leadership levels of the diverse contexts organization work in between the Liaison
(Gardner) hierarchy, but and constituencies synergy with its organization and Match maker
especially active at environment the environment in
the boundaries of which it operates
Servant Leadership Embedded within all Willingness to serve Foster spirit of Serve followers in Servant
(Greenleaf) levels of the rather than be community and accomplishment of Steward
hierarchy, even at served collective action their collective
the very lowest mission
Level 5 Leadership Embedded within all Workmanlike Build organizational Empower followers Worker
(Collins) levels of the humility combined capacity for long- Builder
hierarchy with intense term success
Distinctive Characteristics of Civic
• Throughout history, Civic Sector
Organizations have been influenced by
competing forces (“impulses” – Salamon,
2009) that affect:
– Roles and objectives
– The strategy and style of operation
– The principle reference groups (stakeholders)
– The funding and resource base
Four Impulses Shaping the Future of NGOs
Lester M. Salamon, 2009
The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies
Each “Impulse” Has A Unique
and Significant Impact on
The Voluntarism Impulse
Accountable To Whom? Accountable for What?
• Accountable to “value driven” • Accountable for providing “outlet” for
stakeholders who bring passion and expression of values (including
conviction to the mission spiritual values) in the civic space
• Accountable to volunteers who provide • Accountable for “value-based”
significant human capital explanations of and solutions to social
• Accountable to donors and members problems and issues (e.g., Jubilee
who voluntarily support the 2000, Alcoholics Anonymous)
organization and who embrace the • Accountable for transforming lives of
values of the organization individuals via application of value-
• Accountable to clients who embrace based interventions and treatments
value driven service model • Accountable for maintaining tradition
• Success or failure usually illustrated
with personal stories or anecdotes, not
aggregate empirical data
Voluntarism: Implications for
• Value-centered: Leaders should mirror the values of the volunteer members and
supporters of the organization, reflecting those values in any leadership task.
• Servant oriented: Following the Greenleaf theory, the leader should foster
community building, stewardship, healing, and service.
• Pastoral: The leader of value-centered organizations is like the pastor of a “flock” or
the shepherd who gently offers counsel and guidance, but recognizes the limits of his
or her control over individual and group behavior.
• Holistic: The leader must be oriented toward holistic thinking, viewing followers,
clients, and other stakeholders in all of their complexity, avoiding simplistic formulas
• Fluid and Flexible: The leader of volunteer-based organizations must have a high
tolerance for informal organic structures and the chaos they sometimes produce.
• Board-Centered: Many civic sector organizations have governing boards that are
composed of citizens who volunteer their time to steer the organization and provide
policy guidance and directives. Leaders in the civic sector must work very closely
with these volunteer governing boards, often walking a delicate balance between their
own leadership authority and the authority of the board (Herman and Heimovics,
The Professionalism Impulse
Accountable to Whom? Accountable for What?
• Accountable to professional • Accountable for mission
staff who bring skills and accomplishment via theory-
professional standards of based (versus value-based)
performance to the mission logic model
• Accountable to professional • Accountable for demonstrating
associations results and outcomes that can
• Accountable to informed be empirically verified and
clients who expect tested
professional treatment • Accountable for continuous
• Accountable to funders and learning and improvement
donors who understand the • Accountable for meeting
“logic model” of the professional (“guild”) standards
organization of performance and quality
• Accountable for “best
Professionalism: Implications for
• Technical competence: Leaders of civic sector organizations, especially those that
have become highly professionalized, must be technically competent in the programs
and services provided by the organization that they lead.
• Trust and Credibility: Clients as well as professional staff must feel that they can
place their trust in the leader of the organization. In order to make a meaningful
contribution to solving community problems, the organization must above all be
perceived as professionally and technically credible.
• Boundary spanning: Leaders of civic sector organization must be able to build
bridges to other organizations and other professionals who can contribute to the
resolution of community issues and problems.
• Fact-based accountability: Because professionalism pushes civic sector
organizations toward fact-based (versus ideologically based) programs, the leader
must provide the catalyst and resources to help the organization demonstrate the
outcomes it produces for the community.
• Collaboration and systems thinking: Leaders of professionally based civic
organizations must master the art and science of thinking systemically about their
mission, understanding that their organization is part of a wider system of resources
that can be brought to bear on the problem.
The Commercialism Impulse
Accountable to Whom? Accountable for What?
• Accountable to “the market” • Accountable for market based
(need and demand) measures of performance such
• Accountable to partners, as market share, Social Return
venture philanthropists, on Investment, Cost-Benefit
“investor” philanthropists, Ratios, Various Financial
social entrepreneurs Ratios of sustainability
• Accountable to clients who • Accountable for exploiting
expect to be treated like “comparative advantages” to
“customers” capture niche markets
• Accountable for catalyzing
entrepreneurial culture via
franchising, replication, and
other growth strategies
Commercialism: Implications for
• Entrepreneurial skills: Entrepreneurs are observant of and empathetic for
consumers and their needs. They are skilled at interpreting consumer needs and
rapidly mobilizing resources to meet those needs.
• Risk taking: Entrepreneurial leaders take calculated risks. They are extremely
skillful at understanding the risks inherent in their ventures and taking all possible
steps to minimize or eliminate those risks.
Discipline: Leaders of commercialized civic sector organizations must have the
discipline to focus their energy on the organization’s distinctive competencies and
comparative advantages. Commercials success is most likely to come when
organizations focus on what they do best.
• Versatility: Leaders of commercialized organizations must be versatile to focus both
on the charitable mission of the organization as well as opportunities for commercial
• Opportunistic and Decisiveness: Ultimately, however, entrepreneurial leaders must
make not waver in making decisions. They know that opportunities are fleeting.
The Civic Activism Impulse
Accountable to Whom? Accountable for What?
• Accountable to • Accountable for changing
supporters who view the allocation of valued
NGOs as vehicles for goods in society or the
social change rules by which those
• Accountable to coalitions goods are allocated
and partner organizations • Accountable for future
• Accountable to outcomes that can’t be
beneficiaries, including accurately measured in
future generations the present time frame
Civic Activism: Implications for
• Political skill: Leaders of civic activism must, of course, have deep and sophisticated
knowledge of political institutions and the decision making processes used by those
institutions to make public policy.
• Advocacy: Activist leaders must be skilled at leveraging their political skills to
advocate for change, which involves sophisticated skills in framing and articulating
issues in ways that are compelling as well as practical.
• Negotiation and conflict resolution: Leaders of activist organizations sometimes
work with fragile and volatile coalitions of other organizations whose ideologies or
preferred strategies for social change may be at odds with each other. Negotiation
and conflict resolution are an integral part of the leader’s responsibilities.
• Tolerance for ambiguity and change: Because advocacy organizations promote
change, they themselves are constantly in the midst of change in terms of their
structure, the issues they address, their strategic partners, and their methods of
• Judgment: Activist leaders must exercise sound and mature judgment in order to be
successful and credible.
• Showmanship and Master of Symbolism: Leaders of civic activism organizations
often are the “public face” of the organization and they must be skilled at capturing
the attention and the imagination of the media and of other important stakeholders to
promote the cause of their organization.
Responding to the Four
Five Lessons for Leaders of Civic
• First, the leader of a civic sector organization must begin
from the premise that the mission of the organization
is the single most important determinant of their
• Far more than government or business organizations,
the mission of a civic sector organization determines
what it needs from its leader.
• The mission will not only determine how the leader will
measure performance and results, but it will also dictate
the values, operating philosophies, and culture of the
• The leader must mirror the mission and the values to
the employees, volunteers, and external
Second, the leader of a civic sector organization must
answer this question: What can I as the leader do to
serve this organization, to truly add value, to help it
achieve its mission? The answer to this question will,
of course, vary from one organization to another.
The point is that the leader must be prepared to serve
the organization and the people in it building on the
strengths the organization already has, and if possible
addressing its weaknesses.
• Third, the leader of a civic sector organization must be
committed to sustaining and enhancing, if necessary,
the organization’s public trust and credibility. Public
trust is the most valued asset of a civic sector
organization. Without it, not much can be achieved
(Kearns, 1996). Building trust will involve identifying
essential stakeholders, and understanding what type
of performance they expect from the organization. In
almost all cases, the leader of a civic sector organization
will need to serve as its liaison to the outside world.
Fourth, the leader of a civic sector organization will need
to have a holistic and systemic perspective on the
big picture – how the organization fits into the
community it serves and how the organization itself can
add value and be an asset to the community.
Civic sector organizations will not build public trust if they
are perceived as duplicative or a drain on public
The leader must exercise discipline and wisdom as a
steward of the organization’s scarce resources,
allocating the wisely and with superior judgment to
activities that are truly needed by the community.
Fifth, and finally, the leader of a civic sector
organization must understand that they are not
the “owners” of the organization, but rather they
are only its temporary guardians or
Consequently, they must be devoted to helping
the organization build the capacity to sustain
itself, long after the leader has left. This will
involve not only helping to secure resources to
sustain the mission, but also developing the
leadership skills of everyone in the organization.
Leaders of Civic Sector
Organizations Are …
• Part spiritual healer
• Part professional clinician
• Part social change agent
• Part entrepreneur
Leadership in Financial Crisis
• It will be the leader’s responsibility to broker a dialogue
with essential stakeholders both inside and outside the
organization, working together with these stakeholders,
to develop a strategy for deriving maximum value from
the resources the organization has to offer.
– Mission-driven and value-driven criteria must be established for
determining which services are essential and which services
might be divested
• The leader must communicate very clearly how the
organization plans to respond, focusing particularly on
the mission-based criteria the organization will use to set
– Values, ethics, and accountability will be essential to success.
Financial Crisis (Cont.)
• The boundary spanning skills of the leader will be especially
valuable in these difficult economic times.
• The leader must be on the lookout for opportunities to collaborate
with other organizations and to take care not to waste resources by
unnecessarily duplicating the services of other civic sector
• At the same time, the leader must be an articulate voice of advocacy
for the organization and the people it serves.
• Partnerships and collaborations should be formed carefully, to
ensure that the organization is not taking on a partner that is itself so
financially stricken that it will be unable to contribute anything of
• Discipline and good judgment will be essential leadership skills
during the crisis.
Financial Crisis (cont.)
• In these difficult economic circumstances, leaders must
be even more mindful that they are stewards and
guardians of the organization’s future.
• This will entail not only supreme discipline in the
allocation of scarce resources, but also preparing the
organization for long-term sustainability and eventual
• Recruiting and developing young talent, for example, is a
leadership strategy that can help ensure the
• Also, this is a time when the leader may add value by
finding a more diverse and balanced income portfolio for
Silver Lining in the Dark Clouds
• In difficult economic circumstances, organizations have the
opportunity to reassess their core strengths, determine what they do
best, and what values are essential to their mission.
• In these circumstances, leaders of civic sector organizations have
the opportunity to improve the dialogue within the organization and
with outside constituencies.
• There is also the opportunity to share leadership, not only with
employees but with volunteers, including the governing board. If the
governing board has been under-utilized, then the economic crisis
provides the perfect opportunity to re-energize the board and enlist
its support in securing the future of the organization.
Questions / Discussion?