Learning snapshot

101 | Five top tips for supporting emerging leaders in community organisations

For a community organisation to create enduring impact, it must have strong leadership and actively plan for the future of its leadership in the longer term.

Melanie Bainbridge

Senior Manager, Knowledge & Insights

01 March 2023

Community organisations play a vital role in shaping the communities they serve. They bring together diverse individuals and groups to work towards common goals and provide key opportunities for civic engagement and social impact.  

Most organisations would agree that effective leadership is a fundamental component in the success of any community organisation. It is the driving force behind an organisation's vision, mission, and values, and for guiding the organisation towards its goals. For a community organisation to create enduring impact, it must have strong leadership, and must actively plan for the future of its leadership in the longer term.   

Supporting emerging leaders 

Firstly, there’s an important question to ask. Why do community organisations need to support emerging leaders? 

Emerging leaders are the individuals within organisations or communities who have the potential to take on leadership roles in the future. These individuals can be invaluable assets to a community organisation, but they need the scaffolding and guidance that can be provided by more experienced leaders to help them reach their full potential. 

Emerging leaders can make a significant impact within organisations and communities. By identifying and being intentional about growing and supporting these individuals, community organisations and leaders can ensure a steady flow of new and innovative ideas and a diverse group of leaders who can better reflect and serve their communities. If a community organisation is committed to making real impact and sustaining that into the future, finding and growing those people who are as passionate about that impact as they are, is key to the future of that organisation. 

Additionally, supporting emerging leaders can help to address the leadership gap that often exists within community organisations. Many organisations rely heavily on a small group of dedicated individuals to lead and manage the organisation, but when these individuals step down or move on, it can be difficult to fill the void. By supporting emerging leaders, organisations can ensure that they have a pipeline of skilled and enthusiastic leaders who are ready and able to step up when needed. 


Helena Lopes 1M2lqeonm2a Unsplash

Five ways to identify emerging leaders in community organisations  

The second question community organisations might ask is this: How do we identify emerging leaders? 

It’s not always immediately clear who the emerging leaders are, and sometimes looking beyond the obvious candidates can yield exceptional results.  

While those within an organisation’s ranks who are clearly ambitious and actively seeking growth opportunities are the obvious choices for investment, notions of modern leadership are fast changing.

There is evidence that demonstrates a growing philosophical separation between notions of management and leadership, particularly for the community services sector. This is particularly linked to the needs of the younger workforce, who may look to leadership of a very different kind to former generations. This is key, as millennials (born 1982 – 2003) are now the largest, and fastest growing workforce and will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025.

Notionally, management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers more aptly to an individual's ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organisational goals. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.

It is often believed that holding a management position automatically implies leadership. However, this is not necessarily the case. Importantly, leadership can occur at all levels of an organisation, not just within senior positions. The title or seniority of an individual is not indicative of their ability to lead effectively.

Having said this, there are some simple and persistent tactics that community organisations can employ to identify emerging leaders: 

    1. Look for individuals who take initiative and demonstrate creativity and innovation. These might be the people who consistently step up to support or take on additional responsibilities, or who are confident enough to take creative risks to identify new opportunities. 

    2. Observe who other members of the organisation look to for guidance or direction. These individuals can be inspiring to others and may have natural leadership abilities that are respected by their peers, such as emotional intelligence, collaborative influence and relationship management.  

    3. Pay attention to who is consistently engaged and committed to the organisation's goals and mission. These individuals are likely to be invested in the organisation's success. 

    4. Seek out feedback and input from other members of the organisation. It’s likely that leadership qualities have been observed both by managers and peers, and that those insights will be shared when requested in the context of building organisational capacity. It may also yield unusual insights that highlight leaders who are not obvious candidates for support. 

    5. Use a combination of observation and formal assessments such as personality and leadership style tests, 360-degree feedback, one-on-one interviews, and performance reviews. These are staples of most organisations, and while some take a prescriptive approach that reflects a relatively static perspective on leadership, they can be a good first test of self and peer-to-peer evaluation.  

Reiterating, it is important to note that emerging leaders may not necessarily hold formal positions of authority within an organisation, and that leadership can look wildly different depending on each organisation’s staff composition, its purpose, and its goals. While once qualities such as extroversion and social confidence might have been seen as traits necessary for leadership, this may not be the case in the context of the modern workplace.

Being open-minded and flexible about what future leadership might look like will be key to ensuring that organisations don’t perpetuate old styles of leadership that may not be relevant to the emerging workforce, or indeed emerging communities.

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Five strategies for supporting emerging leaders 

So, when they’ve identified potential leaders, how can community organisations support them to build capability and best position themselves to take on future leadership roles?

    1. Provide mentorship or coaching opportunities: While mentoring and coaching are both focused on helping individuals improve their leadership skills, they are slightly different in their approach. Mentoring typically takes a more long-term and relationship-focused approach. A mentor is someone who has more experience and knowledge in a particular field or industry and serves as a guide and advisor to the mentee, helping them to develop their skills, navigate challenges, and plan for their future.

      Coaching, on the other hand, is typically a more short-term and task-focused approach. A coach works with the individual to identify specific goals and develop a plan to achieve them. The coach provides guidance and support to the individual to help them improve their skills and performance in a specific area. Both approaches can be very effective for leadership development, and the needs and skills of the future leader will likely highlight the best approach, which might even be a combination of the two.
    1. Offer leadership development training: Emerging leaders can benefit from training on a variety of topics, such as communication, team building, and project management. However, there is also a wide range of training in more ‘soft skills’, such as interpersonal communications and emotional intelligence, which are fast gaining traction as more relevant to modern leadership than those skills commonly associated with older management styles. A mix of both might be of value to our community organisations, as we seek emerging leaders who are adaptable to the future of work and emerging workforce expectations.  

    2. Give emerging leaders opportunities to lead: Another great way for emerging leaders to develop their skills is to be offered real-life leadership experiences. Community organisations can provide these opportunities by giving emerging leaders responsibilities and roles within the organisation that allow them to lead projects, teams, or initiatives. This can create organic opportunities for growth, providing more challenging assignments, and encouraging strategic thinking and innovation.

      Opportunities for emerging leaders to test and flex their creative muscles cannot be undervalued. This, of course, must be managed with sensitivity, as creating isolated opportunities for individuals can be viewed as favouritism or comparison if not carefully communicated.
    1. Recognise emerging leaders: Community organisations can also recognise emerging leaders for their contributions and accomplishments. This can include public recognition, awards, or opportunities for advancement within the organisation. Recognition can help to motivate and inspire emerging leaders to continue to develop their skills and take on more leadership roles. However, it is important to acknowledge that not all recognition types are meaningful for all individuals, and that an understanding of emerging leaders and their values can help organisations to support them in ways that feel authentic. 

    2. Encourage networking: Emerging leaders can benefit from networking opportunities with other leaders in their community and beyond. Community organisations can facilitate networking by organising events, roundtables, or other opportunities for leaders to connect. They can also encourage emerging leaders to join relevant professional organisations, attend networking events arranged by other organisations, and make introductions to other leaders and innovators.  

Supporting emerging leaders in community organisations is crucial for long-term success and sustainability. By providing mentorship, training, leadership opportunities, recognition, and networking opportunities, organisations can help to develop and nurture a diverse and dynamic group of leaders who can maintain drive and purpose and can continue to build momentum into the future. 

A thriving and sustainable community organisation is one that invests not only in the leadership of today, but also in the leadership of tomorrow. 

  • Author: Melanie Bainbridge

    Melanie Bainbridge is a writer, sustainability professional, multi-arts professional and social impact advocate. Mel melds 20+ years of strategy, policy, project management and community engagement experience with communications and creative development skills to create inspiring impact narratives. Melanie is currently Senior Manager Knowledge & Insights, Lotterywest.


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Acknowledgement of Country

The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.