Don’t mention the ‘P’ word: talking about developing leaders

I will not use 'passionate' to talk about leadership

The backstory

Rebecca Nestor, founder of Learning for Good, and I are collaborating with NCVO on a new leadership programme targeted at the next generation of non-profit leaders. The programme has gone live on the NCVO website, and we are meeting the participants for the first time at 5pm on Sunday, 6 November 2016. So, no pressure.

What words can we use to get our message across?

So we are sitting round the table at NCVO HQ discussing the marketing plan for this new training programme – called Charity Leadership in the 2020s – when someone said (the words they used were actually a lot more pungent) “we can’t say we are passionate about leadership. Passionate is so over used.” It was one of those moments when body language said everything. We all felt uncomfotable about using ‘passionate’ to talk about leadership, but only one of us had the courage to say so.

If we use the word ‘passionate’ we deserve to be pilloried.

Minding our Ps and Qs

We then talked passionately about what kind of words we wanted to use to describe our thinking about Charity Leadership in the 2020s. Persistent, collaborative, questioning? Rebecca, who is very good at anchoring discussions, said: “I think this sentence on the NVCO website captures what the programme is about”:

We want to ensure that the sector is unique and distinctive while continuing to be effective, entrepreneurial, digitally empowered, open, transparent, value driven and responsible in every aspect of its work.

Persistence pays

“So it does!”, we said. This was the second time we all relaxed. The irony is that we’re all passionate about developing leaders. It’s what we do. And we’re persistent in our belief that leaders in the non-profit sector need a programme that will help them to become the best leaders they can be. It’s just that saying we are passionate about leadership could be a real turn off for some people.

Leadership is leadership

I remember hearing the head of a leadership and sustainability programme in Southern and East Africa say: “Good leaders use language that people can understand”. He is a natural teacher. He points to cars parked under enormous Malawian trees and says: “Look. Ecosystem services at work.” He works with complexity, but he never forgets the importance of making things as simple a possible, not simpler. And that’s why we have to be particular about the words we use to describe what’s special about Charity Leadership in the 2020s.

 Never use a long word where a short one will do George Orwell

Come and join us.

If you liked my blog try Karl Wilding’s blog that he wrote after a leadership workshop I co-led with Shaks Gosh of the Clore Foundation at the NCVO Conference in April 2016

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