The importance of strong leadership capacities and behaviours is often mentioned as an important factor in the success of any organisation, small or large. Good leaders can make an enormous difference. They provide clear direction, give confidence – internally and externally. They can have an important bearing on the working atmosphere so that all individuals and teams can perform at their best. This is as true for organisations in the international development and humanitarian sectors as for any other sector.

However, strong, not to mind inspirational leadership is not common in this sector as one might hope. One could expect that individuals, who have decided to dedicated their talents to such noble efforts, often with financial rewards that are a fraction of what they could achieve elsewhere, would be truly inspiring individuals and leaders. Yes, of course there are some examples of wonderful leadership, not just at the C level, but at various levels and corners of different agencies.

But sometimes we can be surprised? Sometimes disappointed, and now and again dismayed? When we come across behaviours that are less than inspiring, one cant resist asking why; I remember being taken by a study some years back which concluded something like “the nobility of the behaviours of an organisation can be inversely proportional to the nobility of its goals”. This is indeed a bit of a damning and surprising conclusion.

Our research intends to get under the skin of the issue in the context of the international development and humanitarian sectors. The intent is to provide a set of insights and hopefully tools to help in the strengthening of leadership in the sector – so international agencies can perform better.

Examples of questions we plan to tackle
1. What leadership characteristics/behaviours seem to be most prominent in the sector? Where are the real strengths? What deficiencies are most evident?
2. What are the important contextural factors that affect the leadership behaviours that can sometimes surprise us? Good and Bad?
3. If we scrutinise the range of existing leadership ideas, theories and frameworks; which seem to be most helpful to explain and help?
4. How do leadership capacity/behaviours in the sector connect with leadership in related sectors? Governments/politicians/civil servants in program countries? Government/politicians/civil servants in donor countries? Private sector executives?
5. What are some interesting case examples of different kinds/styles of leadership in the sector? What can be learned from these examples over the past 10 or 20 years?