In Conversation: Engaging the Next Generation of Leaders

This conversation was captured by Tess Gallagher who sat in on a meeting of ACOSVO members looking to discuss what today’s Chief Officers can do to engage the Third Sector’s next generation of leaders. Tess works for a STEM education charity- you can see more of her writing here.


As the New Year approaches, Scotland is part of a changing world. From climate emergencies to Brexit deadlines, one of the few things we can be sure of is the need for passionate, inspired leaders ready to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond.


What’s immediately clear from sitting in on this conversation is that third sector leaders are already great role-models of passion and dedication. Carl Hodgson calls it “the 24/7 badge.” 


"People say to me, “you don’t have to do everything”, but actually [in some cases] I do!" jokes Natalie Stevenson. But are Chief Executives’ high expectations of themselves causing unintended repercussions? As the world changes, leadership styles and workplace values are evolving too.


"I used to wear that 24/7 badge with pride," says Meg Wright, "but now I’m thinking, should we actually be wearing it with shame?”


“I think there’s a difference in expectations,” reflects Stuart Callison. “People in their fifties came up through a period where presenteeism was expected, which [is a mindset that] younger staff, including managers, don’t necessarily have.”


The World Health Organisation now recognises workplace burnout as a rising “occupational phenomenon”, and from the natural world to the world of work, sustainability has become a hot topic across all areas of modern life. With attitudes to work and leadership changing, what can third sector leaders do to ensure that their organisations’ working practices are sustainable?


“We do our Active Leadership programme which is all about how you look after yourself and stay resilient,” says Pat Armstrong “so we have Chief Exec walks and cycles.”


“A conversation that Meg and I often have is “where do you do your best thinking?”” says Kim Atkinson. “Is it in meetings, is it behind a desk, or from home? That [question] might just start to change some of the culture.”



“I think there’s some really easy things we could be doing,” adds Meg, “like not sending out emails at ten o’clock at night, but also encouraging others to […] have walking meetings, work from home- normalising some [of these] working practices. I think we could start to role-model that behaviour ourselves.”


“The other thing I think that’s quite relevant to this is the evidence around 4-day working weeks and 6-hour working days, says Ian Bruce, “and actually I’d love the chance to test some of that stuff.”


It’s clear that today’s leaders have a wealth of ideas, both for small personal changes and sector-wide initiatives, that could enable the next generation to step up to leadership positions: perhaps the next step is 

simply to share them.


“When I was at university, I never dreamed of working in the third sector because I didn’t even know it existed,” adds Kim. “I think our culture and values are such that we are usually good employers, but we probably don’t shout about that and celebrate that as much as we should.”


SpaceX CEO Elon Musk once famously said that “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”. For third sector leaders, working out how to change the world on a shoestring budget is all in a day’s work- the real challenge lies in making that work sustainable for those who do it. In a changing global environment, perhaps our fast-evolving sector is uniquely placed to rise to this challenge.


The third sector is exciting, dynamic, unique- full of opportunities for young people inspired to lead social change. As Kim says, “it’s about telling that story.”


Leadership Learnings:

  • Third sector leaders’ “24/7” commitment has built a vibrant and rapidly developing sector, with its own unique leadership challenges.
  • Current leaders can instigate positive change by role-modelling sustainable workplace practices, such as flexible working and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, to encourage future leaders to step up to the role.
  • Leading by example involves celebrating the third sector’s achievements and opportunities, in balance with the upholding of its high professional standards.


This article was produced in conversation with:

Pat Armstrong OBE- Chief Executive, ACOSVO

Kim Atkinson- Chief Executive, Scottish Sports Association 

Ian Bruce- Chief Executive, Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector

Stuart Callison- Chief Executive, St Andrew’s First Aid

Carl Hodgson- Chief Executive, Seascape Fife

Natalie Stevenson- Trust Manager, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs Countryside Trust

Meg Wright- Interim Executive