Written by Mission Talent Team

Leading Change in Uncertain Times

Faced with challenges such as political uncertainty, climate change and a global humanitarian and refugee crisis – how can we effectively drive social change in uncertain times?

This question brought together leaders from the civil society sector in Berlin on 24 May for Mission Talent’s first-ever Mix’n’Talent event. I had the pleasure of moderating an inspiring panel with Susanne Baumann, Chief of Staff at Crisis Action; Sabrina Schulz, Head of the Berlin Office of E3G; and Jeannette Gusko, who manages International Brand and Engagement for Change.org. By sharing their experiences, lessons and thoughts on the topic, the panel quickly engaged the event’s guests in a fruitful discussion.

A guiding theme of the evening was leadership: which type of leader can successfully drive social change today? We can observe that traditional top-down leadership struggles to deliver the necessary flexibility and innovation needed to thrive in a fast-changing context. To be able to embrace change as an opportunity, taking a “servant leadership” model proves more effective; leadership that empowers people and fosters a culture that allows experimentation and failure.

This calls for leaders who are willing and able to push power down and out. The interconnectedness of the challenges we face require leaders who fully understand the importance of working in alliances. Moreover, they have to be able to break through silos within and beyond their sector, bringing unusual suspects on board. Uncertain times demand strong skills in situational leadership; leaders need to be able to make decisions without having all the information. In a time where growing frustration causes shifts to extremism, it is ever so important for leaders not to lose touch with what citizens, communities and beneficiaries feel strongest about. On the contrary, driving social change asks for leaders who can channel frustration among people into effective action and policy asks. 

So how do we get there? After all, demanding change is much easier than really changing. The discussion brought forward some good ideas: Let’s start by honestly questioning our own assumptions and stereotypes: who do we actually accept as a leader? Does it correspond with the leadership we need? And are we willing to invest in development opportunities to foster the necessary leadership skills among our staff? We should not shy away from such investment costs. In the light of the challenges we face, the costs of not investing will be much higher. 

This blog was written by Jana Merkelbach who also moderated this very first Mission Talent event. Her second guest blog entitled “From Silos to Movement” will be published in the next few days.