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The difference leadership makes? Debating and conceptualising leadership in the UK voluntary sector

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This paper sets out to assess the state of the academic, and policy and practice, debate around leadership in the UK voluntary sector context. There has been a lack of sustained academic interest in the notion of leadership in the UK, and equally a lack of dialogue between academia, policy and practice. As a result, it is often far from clear whether there is any agreement about what leadership consists of, and the difference that ‘improved’ leadership might make. The paper considers what is meant by leadership in the voluntary sector, and considers three dominant approaches that have been used to frame leadership in debates within the sector. The three themes we identify in existing literature are person-centred approaches, process approaches, and debates that are concerned with issues of representativeness. In particular, it draws attention to the over-reliance on individual or person-centred accounts of leadership in the sector. The paper posits instead the promise of accounts that draw attention to collective notions of leadership, and the implications of a more widespread adoption of such frames for leadership development practice and research.
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Keywords: collective leadership; leadership; management; voluntary sector

Document Type: Editorial

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Voluntary Action Research, UK 2: The Open University, UK

Publication date: March 2020

This article was made available online on October 2, 2019 as a Fast Track article with title: "The difference leadership makes? Debating and conceptualising leadership in the UK voluntary sector".

More about this publication?
  • Voluntary Sector Review publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed, accessible papers on third sector research, policy and practice. It is an invaluable cutting-edge resource for all those researching or working in the fast-growing voluntary, community and wider third sectors.

    The journal covers the full range of issues relevant to voluntary sector studies, including: definitional and theoretical debates; management and organisational development; financial and human resources; philanthropy; volunteering and employment; regulation and charity law; service delivery; civic engagement; industry and sub-sector dimensions; relations with other sectors; social enterprise; evaluation and impact. Voluntary Sector Review covers voluntary sector studies from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, politics, psychology, economics, business studies, social anthropology, philosophy and ethics. The journal includes work from the UK and Europe, and beyond, where cross-national comparisons are illuminating. With dedicated expert policy and practice sections, Voluntary Sector Review also provides an essential forum for the exchange of ideas and new thinking.

    Rigorous and stimulating, Voluntary Sector Review is an indispensable tool for everyone who values empirically-grounded, theoretically-informed and policy-relevant reviews of the future direction of the voluntary sector.

    Editors: Nick Acheson (Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland), Bernard Harris (University of Strathclyde, UK), Rob Macmillan, (University of Birmingham, UK)

    The journal is published in association with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and a print copy of the journal is a membership benefit.

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