When it comes to leadership, don’t go it alone

Over the past few weeks ACOSVO has had graduate volunteer Ben Rogers working with us. Here he discusses lessons learned from student life, and the potential benefits of a leadership exchange. (Originally published 05/09/17 in TFN).


It’s drilled into us as students that copying someone else’s answers is wrong. Independent study is encouraged, and comparing answers becomes a shady activity for secluded corridors. I won’t contend that plagiarism is ever acceptable, for fear of having my degree revoked, but I do believe that being a leader in the third sector requires a more collaborative and creative approach to problem solving.


Having graduated in July, I know what it is to isolate yourself from others for the sake of work. Across my four years at university I spent hours in the library (OK, perhaps not as many as I should have), customarily heading to the silent floor of the library, putting my headphones on and cramming as much of a textbook into my head as possible. That got me through many essay deadlines and stressful exams, but I soon realised that it only got me so far down the learning process.


By fourth year, I had grown to appreciate the value of working with others in tutorials, office hours and study groups – all things I wouldn’t have touched with a bargepole as a fresher. Talking through my politics dissertation with a biology student proved far more insightful than reading it a million times on my own. I couldn’t have navigated the stresses of final year without being able to vent to my personal tutor about poststructuralism and poorly-phrased academic texts.


When it comes to leadership, a fresh set of eyes and ears is similarly invaluable. It’s likely that the problem keeping you up at night has already been faced, and solved, by someone else. Their challenge may have been motivating a team of health workers instead of charity volunteers, but it’s likely that the experience they gained is directly transferrable to your situation. If someone held the answers to your big leadership questions, wouldn’t you want to find out?


I’ve been volunteering with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO) over the summer, which exists to strengthen and inspire Scotland’s third sector leaders. Its Leadership Exchange programme is central to achieving this goal, offering middle, senior and executive level individuals the opportunity to collaborate with a leader from another sector to discuss the issues facing them in a flexible and confidential space.


The programme has matched 260 participants since 2012 and already has 20 applicants for the next cohort – from head teachers to fire & rescue chiefs, NHS to Scottish Government managers, third sector leaders to private sector managers – each waiting to share their knowledge and learn from your leadership experience. The deadline to sign up for the next cohort is 29th September, so apply now or email phili.wetton@acosvo.org.uk to find out more.


As I prepare to start work in the private sector this month, I know a world of challenges and opportunities await. I’m all too aware that there are huge gaps in my knowledge and a hundred mistakes waiting to be made, so I’ll be taking all the help I can get. And if I ever find myself in a management position, I’ll be the first to sign up to a Leadership Exchange so I can learn from the wealth of experience in Scotland’s third sector.


Ben Rogers is a graduate volunteer at ACOSVO