Well according to Nick Lovegrove, a director at McKinsey, and Matthew Thomas, executive director of the Intersector Project, it’s what we need i.e. executives who can move easily between business, government and social enterprises.
They argue that the biggest problems facing us in coping with constraints on resources, or controlling spiralling health-care costs, require business, government and the third sector to cooperate.
So “Tri-sector leaders” (that sounds better) who can bridge the culture, values, incentives and purpose that separates the three sectors are invaluable in solving those problems.
But how do you develop such leaders? I remember many years ago being interviewed by a consultant for an HR job in the Auto industry (in which I had worked previously). I was then head of HR for a local authority and his first question was : “why have you been wasting your time in the public sector?”
Lovegrove and Thomas believe we need to incorporate tri-sector issues in academic and executive training and use exchange programmes so that mid-career managers can build up networks.
Tri-sector experience has also got to be seen as a development priority for business leaders.
Perhaps the more difficult aspect of this idea is that individuals will have competing motives and possibly conflicting professional goals.
They are concerned with wealth creation for themselves and their families which is more attainable in the private sector; they may also want leadership on a large scale and a position of influence – which working in government can offer.
They may also have a strong sense of purpose or mission which is the main focus of the non-profit third sector. But the cultures and career prospects and different earning potential can create barriers.
Tri-sector leaders are likely to be more idealistic than purely self-interested and more pragmatic than entirely selfless – an interesting mix of pragmatism and idealism.
It also seems that, among the younger generation at least, these leaders want to move on without necessarily completing their careers in any one sector.
The authors say developing such leaders is very difficult in the USA where there is so much friction between the three sectors.
Business executives consider government as bureaucratic and inept and NGOs as ineffective; public servants think private enterprise executives just want to make as much money as they can as quickly as they can while those in the third sector think nobody cares.
Is it any different in the UK?
Main Source: “Triple Strength Leaders” in HBR September 2013