Leading by Vision

New leadership approaches for civil society / 13-17 June

Leading by Vision is not merely a training programme for senior leaders. The sector’s leaders are reminded of “the treasure we have in our hands” to encourage and enable them to lead their organisations by vision. The programme is designed as a leadership lab which allows senior managers and board members to test and develop their leadership skills while analysing their organisation’s need for change and charting a path towards transformational change. The lab includes a project strand allowing participants to develop a change agenda for their own organisations based on a concept developed by the Centre (“six steps”). While working in the lab, the participants are supported by an experienced trainer who will support them to strengthen their leadership based on their organisations’ vision and mission.

The concept is based on the Centre’s experience in providing leadership training, on its work on “disruptive change” and on the Executive Director’s book about the future of international civil society organisations (ICSOs), “The Hedgehog and the Beetle”, which was launched in April 2015.

The Leading by Vision lab 2016 took place from 13 - 17 June close to Berlin.

If you are interested in joining the next Leading by Vision Lab, contact Peter Koblowsky: pkoblowsky@icscentre.org

Conference Details


Looking to the Outside World – Looking to the Future

International civil society organisations (ICSOs) play crucial roles in societies world-wide: They fight poverty and environmental harm, they protect children and organise care for the elderly, they promote democracy and defend human rights, they offer innumerable services, engage in advocacy and organise campaigns. However, the role and increasing power of ICSOs is not uncontested. At present, they are confronted with a number of disruptions challenging the way they work and possibly even their very existence. In order to prevail and deliver their crucial contributions in a fast changing environment ICSOs have to change themselves. However, conducting in-depth change is a major challenge.

ICSOs’ all too frequent reorganisation exercises – and sometimes even their strategy development – are often starting with the question: “What has been going wrong in our organisation and how can we fix it?” This question leads in two unhelpful directions: an internal perspective – instead of an external one – and a look at the past – instead of the future. Often reorganisations based on that question are already outdated at the time of their implementation which leads to another round of reorganisation. Widespread “change fatigue” is the consequence. Strategies based on the internal/past perspective usually lack ambition and fail to mobilise the organisation whereas an ambitious external/future perspective has the potential to energise the organisation and drive change.

Rediscovering Vision and Mission

Over the past two decades many ICSOs have learned a lot from business. They have brought in business consultants; they adopted management techniques, auditing standards and strategy processes; and they employed a number of leaders with a business background. Altogether, they have benefited from opening up to a business perspective. Today, many ICSOs are larger, more professional and more efficient than they used to be. At the same time ICSOs are in danger of forgetting the single biggest sector specific asset they have: their vision of a better world and their mission which shapes their specific contribution to achieving such a world. Neither business nor government have a vision or mission of a comparable quality, and both have to work hard to motivate their staff. ICSOs can count on the intrinsic motivation of staff and activists; they only need to make sure not to damage or destroy this motivation.

If ICSOs look back to the time when they were founded, they usually find a visionary personality who led the organisation by her/his vision. Later, as formal structures and processes emerged, organisational needs replaced vision and mission as the organisations’ main drivers. Especially in times of transformational change ICSO leaders need to rediscover their organisations’ vision and mission as the basis and driver of renewal and reinvigoration.

Vision Driven Change

Leading a major change process by vision entails six steps: an ongoing one which starts at the very beginning and continues throughout the change process, Rally support for vision driven change; and five steps which build upon each other but also overlap and run in parallel.

1. Rally support for vision driven change

2. Analyse critical changes in the outside world, scan the horizon for emerging trends

3. Reconfigure vision and mission to remain relevant in changing conditions

4. Refocus the organisation’s identity and culture

5. Identify mission-critical strategies, business models, processes and structures

6. Develop and implement a change agenda which delivers these

Basis and driver in the change process are the organisation’s vision and mission – reconfigured as necessary against the changing needs of the external world. All other aspects of the organisation are open to the debate. This particularly includes traditional ways of working towards the mission which many ICSOs instinctively see as part of the mission and thus as sacrosanct. While vision and mission serve as fix points and benchmarks all processes and structures need to be strictly seen as tools which regularly have to be adapted in line with changing external conditions. Vision driven leadership will continuously rally support for the organisation’s vision and mission and base – and explain – any change as a means to better achieve the mission.

The Leading by Vision Lab

Leading by Vision will not provide formal leadership training. Sessions will be run as laboratories predominantly shaped by participants who will be supported on their leadership journey by seasoned leaders and leadership experts. Formats for the different sessions include: scanning the horizon, project development, peer advice, team work, inputs from experts, coaching, role play, presentation, etc.

As part of the application process participants will be asked to identify a project of transformational change for their organisation which they will conduct in preparation of, during and following up on the Leading by Vision lab. Participants are expected to present their project at the end of the lab and – within the following six months – to their organisation’s senior management team or board. Selected organisations may be encouraged to work on a specific project or case study to document the outcome of the new leadership approach within their organisations.

Conference Pictures

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