Leadership is about shifting power, not holding it.

To create meaningful change in the world we need a new generation of leaders, and a new model of leadership, they’re already out there they just need to be given the chance, says Perry Maddox.

Shifting power is nothing new. 

Don’t buy the hype. 

Shifting power is what good development work has always been about. Everything we do as Restless Development is about powering change. Youth power and community power leading the way. Influencing power holders to partner with youth for impact. So you’d better believe I spend a lot of time thinking about power as a CEO.

Maybe not in the way you’d guess, though.

Perry, author and CEO of Restless Development.

Shifting power means walking the walk. 

Recent scandals exposed the hypocrisy of NGOs seeking to achieve a mission without living it. Gender inequality cannot be combatted if staff sexual abuse is tolerated. The fight for human rights is undermined by organisational cultures of bullying and intimidation. And no amount of fundraising income justifies exploiting people.

How we achieve our mission is as important as what we achieve. Maybe more so. Mission-driven organisations must practice what we preach. 

Easy to say, harder to do. 

I’m accountable for the actions of thousands of young leaders and staff around the world, most of whom I’ll never meet.  How do I ensure they all walk the walk? 

How do they ensure that I walk the walk?

It begins with values.  

Walking the walk means being guided by values. 

Millicent is a young leader from Sierra Leone. She was a participant on our Business Brains project and has been sharing these acquired skills with her peers.

Values are not a poster on a wall or an affirmational quotation on insta. Anyone can do the right thing when it’s easy. True values are what you choose to do even though it hurts. The actions we take and the decisions we make despite higher costs, greater difficulties or the fact they make our lives harder. We make those sacrifices because we value the reason behind them.

For example, we hire on potential not experience. This makes our lives harder, because experienced staff need far less support. We hire on potential because we believe in young people and the value of what they can do. We believe that investing in them is the right thing to do. This belief makes us Restless.

To shift power, we must stick to our values. And our values must challenge us. 

That’s why we designed our four values to oppose and contrast each other, constantly raising questions, creating tensions and challenging us. They ensure that new forms of leadership, and new opportunities to lead are constantly created, not on the whims of a CEO, but through an embedded shared culture. They keep us questioning. They keep us restless. 

Being guided by values means generating leaders.

Restless Development’s Making Girls Leaders programme in India empowers young girls through peer education to gain the confidence and skills they need to take control of their lives and become community leaders.

I’m only one of thousands of restless leaders. My role is not to be the leader but to create leaders. Young leaders, community leaders, and staff leaders.

Shifting power is about everyone exercising leadership, not only those with titles. Or money. Or privilege. That failed approach to “leadership” is why we need to shift the power, thanks.

So how do we generate leaders? How do we succeed as a complex, donor-funded INGO while radically challenging how change happens and who leads it? 

Generating leaders means treating all people as leaders. 

We always treat young people as leaders. 

  • We trust them to lead our work, hire young on potential, ask them to hold us to account as young board members. 
  • We understand and talk about them as leaders, not beneficiaries or victims. 
  • Ultimately we let them speak for themselves, and act for themselves, providing platforms and resources for them to unapologetically speak truth and to inspire action.

We ensure staff are able to lead in their roles and to grow as leaders. 

  • We insist on diverse teams and inclusive cultures where we all thrive. 
  • We invest in our people and practice award-winning transparency because openness helps everyone grow as leaders. 
  • We refuse top-down INGO power structures, and instead choose ten independent national organisations as our foundation. 
  • We choose a “mobile headquarters”, convening directors from all countries to lead as equals, rather than a top-down London headquarters. 

When all people thrive, when everyone is treated as a leader, then we’re shifting power.

Just Open Leaders

Two years into the CEO role, I’ve been reflecting on what this job is all about. 

It has to be about shifting power, and that means creating leaders. 

I’m privileged to be in this role and want to use the platform to open leadership and to help others, particularly different and emerging, leaders to succeed. I believe in leaders who fight in the right way for what’s right. Leaders who lead transparently, open leadership and multiply leaders. 

Just Open Leaders is for people looking to grow as leaders, to grow leaders around them, and to grow the impact that we have together. 

Quick reads, practical skills and voices of just, open leaders to help on your leadership journey. Check it out and let me know what you think.

We need more leaders. We need more diverse leaders. We need more open leadership.

That’s how we shift power.

This piece is from our PowerShifting series, click here to find out more.

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

  1. In Africa our education system prepair for the worst future ever. Prepair for greedy leaders only they look for their stomach not their citizen always think on how long will they stay in that position they do not prepair other peiple to takeover they don’t practice shifting of power to their successor. They are not ready to let others to be leaders, they don’t prepair for who will takeover after them they only want to stay in leadership forever thats why Africa to develop its need alot of changes. Africa is over controlled by greedy and ignorance.

    Am willing to change my country and my lovely Africa.

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Leadership is about shifting power, not holding it.

by wearerestless Reading time: 4 min