My response centered on the need for solid theory-of-change skills, explaining that future executives and governing board members need these tools to understand how to ask and answer the right questions regarding outcomes.
Upon reflection and hindsight, I’m now clearer about what else I might have shared. I maintain my response of building a solid theory-of-change; one that includes clarity on target population, purpose, market need, and evidence-based programs that lead to improved client results.
But I would add skills consisting of a mindset shift toward openness, iteration, and evolution.
This means becoming a leader who genuinely wants to learn, is open to client, staff, and community feedback, understands that environmental norms are in constant flux, and that informed adaptation is the best practice for organizations to thrive; and, in turn, for clients to thrive as well.
With equal rigor to the technical skills, our academic institutions and professors need to teach flexibility, creativity, nimbleness. We need to infuse ethical behavior, power-sharing, and humility into our next generation of leaders.
These “soft” skills are notoriously hard to teach, but they are vital for executive leadership as well as anyone in or entering a governing role in the social sector.
I acknowledge that this may sound unattainable - how do you teach emotional intelligence, self-reflection and self-knowledge? Can they even be taught or are they innate? The question that Dr. Ebrahim posed was brilliant in trying to expose the ideal skill-set. Similar to client outcomes, we need to identify what defines success first, and only then should we tackle the challenge of how to measure and manage toward that success.
My hope is that the academic community will step up and find ways to teach these soft skills, perhaps looking outside the business/management school faculty to incorporate other disciplines.
We need to allow social sector leaders to maintain their “dreamer” status, while forging priceless inter-personal and organizational skills. The technical skills can then build upon this foundation.
In the face of either super complex social issues or super challenging financial issues or both, this informed adaptation, combined with self-knowledge, optimism and humor will keep us energized and ensure our colleagues remain engaged and motivated.
I believe that these critical skills will guide emerging leaders in the social sector to forge real and lasting social change. I look forward to learning from academics if they are up to the challenge.
I write this at the start of a new year, with a wish that 2016 catalyzes your learning journey. May it be iterative and reflective.