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“Trees Die From the Top”: International Perspectives on NGO Leadership Development


This paper examines the role of leadership development in NGO capacity building and assesses some of the challenges of developing a new generation of NGO leaders. The paper draws on the analysis of new and existing research into the dimensions of NGO leadership highlighting the importance of both individual attributes and contextual relevance. Effective NGO leaders are able to balance a range of competing pressures from different stakeholders in ways that do not compromise their individual identity and values. Leadership development programmes therefore need to focus on both the values and identity of individual leaders while also assisting leaders understand and proactively respond to their rapidly changing external environment. We conclude that there is an urgent need to build the capacity of NGOs to develop their leadership capability. Unless systems and processes to support this work are put in place then the apocryphal warning “trees die from the top” will have more than a ring of truth in it.

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Correspondence to John Hailey.

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Hailey, J., James, R. “Trees Die From the Top”: International Perspectives on NGO Leadership Development. Voluntas 15, 343–353 (2004).

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  • NGOs
  • leaders
  • capacity building
  • leadership development