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The power of a place-based approach to leadership

Carrie Cuno, Clore Social Leadership’s Development Manager, on how investing in a place-based approach to leadership could reinvigorate communities across the UK.

As the world becomes ever more globalised and interdependent, government responses to the rapidly changing economic, social, and environmental conditions arguably are failing the majority of constituents, especially here in the UK. A common response is to call for ‘stronger’ leadership, but with little understanding of what that looks like, or of the abilities needed to drive social change. There is an urgent need to rethink conventional notions of leadership, and one answer could be a community - or place-based approach to leadership that allows for more inclusive forms of governance and social activism.

Community leadership can be based on common place, purpose or experience, and is increasingly recognised as a driver of social change. It operates within the boundaries of the group it serves, representing an interactive, reciprocal form of leadership rather than a fixed hierarchy. And place-based leadership welcomes and supports people from all different backgrounds to build change together, creating vital networks that can then provide opportunities for collaborative working, creative thinking, and peer support - all of which are crucial to building a dynamic and thriving society.

Because communities are based on shared experiences and connections, this kind of leadership is less hierarchical than its traditional, top-down counterpart. Community leaders operate everywhere in society, from a housing estate playground to the VCSE sector to the local authority; so, crucially, place-based leadership must be multi-level rather than restricted to those in positions of authority. This approach allows leaders to disrupt traditional power structures, creating space for new and innovative ways of thinking.

Place-based leadership must be multi-level rather than restricted to those in positions of authority.

So how do we support community leaders? We build inclusive spaces where people can focus on personal development and relationship-forming--vital skills that will help them understand and participate in decision-making processes. We invest in leadership development programmes that cater to all community members instead of restricting leadership to those at executive or managerial levels. Most importantly, we challenge traditional notions of leadership, framing it in such a way as to provide social legitimation to community leaders who drive change rather than safeguard the status quo.

This was the approach taken with Clore Social Leadership’s place-based leadership development programme that ran across Hull and East Yorkshire last year. HEY100 offered leadership development and training to more than 100 social leaders at different levels across the community. The programme worked across traditional silos and brought together leaders from charities, social enterprises, community businesses and arts/cultural organisations. The interim findings recently released show that a place-based programme can build a sense of purpose across a city or region, galvanizing leaders around shared goals.

Making a commitment to develop leadership capacity and capability across communities can have an impact far wider than local social sectors. An active and engaged citizenry is key to holding our local, regional, and national governments accountable and ensuring officials act in the best interests of our communities. Underpinning all of Clore Social’s work is the belief that leadership is a set of skills and behaviours that anyone can develop. Redefining it as such drastically lowers the barrier to civic participation, amplifying the voices of community members whilst increasing the government’s receptivity to hearing those voices.

An active and engaged citizenry is key to holding our local, regional, and national governments accountable...

Leadership, and especially community leadership, is not a static concept; but mutual trust, shared vision, and collaborative planning are critical. Only by empowering all our leaders, strengthening the relationships that underpin a place, and making space for the personal growth that allows those relationships to flourish can we ensure that our towns and cities are able to face the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

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