(1) Distinct Co-operative Governance Challenges, (2) Distributed Leadership (DL), Self-awareness, Servant Leadership, and Safe Learning Spaces, (3) Empowerment for Service, Democracy, and Value-based Management, (4) Accountability for Strategic Leadership Processes: “Leading is a function, not a status.”
Distinct Co-operative Governance Challenges
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and Co-operatives that are run according to cooperative principles, face distinct challenges compared to governments or for-profit organizations. About 90 percent of contemporary leadership research is not directly relevant for the NGO context. . Furthermore, the available approaches to co-operative leadership need to be tailored according to organizational structure and maturity, economic sector, and membership size .
In a time of mystification and celebration of top-down leadership , capitalist shareholder dominance, and the absence of teaching foundations of cooperative democratic principles in schools, NGOs and Co-ops nevertheless continue to prioritize cooperation, especially by democratic and participatory principles that foster the inclusive membership’s well-being beyond pure business goals (Pinto, 2011). The cooperative governance model developed over decades by the CDS Consulting Co-op  has proven to provide leadership guidance to meet these unique needs by structuring governance elements into the four pillars of (1) teaming, (2) accountable empowerment, (3) democracy, and (4) strategic leadership. The following selected possible leadership program aspects are recommended to address the governance challenges of early-stage, still small cooperative organizations with a diverse and growing volunteering membership base.
Distributed Leadership (DL), Self-awareness, Servant Leadership, and Safe Learning Spaces
Protagonist leaders not sharing appropriately information are roadblocks to the active participation of co-leaders (e.g., other board members) and other members as everyone is supposed to participate in the democratic process . Mutually owned solution development involving all stakeholders (i.e., diverse member categories and other stakeholders in a multi-stakeholder cooperative) cultivate creativity . The risk of stakeholders pursuing their individual career goals at the cost of enhanced social networks and shared knowledge has to be prevented . Cooperative enterprises require concerted collective action . Such a collective capacity  is necessary to sustainably pool resources and know-how and can be addressed by the distributed leadership (DL) paradigm . Co-ops may foresee to offer leadership education that is addressing the dimensions of DL, which are “bounded empowerment, developing leadership, shared decision and collective engagement” (, p. 693).
A higher self-awareness may be needed for individuals to make sense of the broader cooperative perspective . DL suggests a culture of intensified inquiry among individuals  that can be positively influenced by increased self-efficacy, job satisfaction, and creative behavior among the members. A co-op can consider administering the validated DL instrument as the basis for its leadership development . Especially at early stages of forming an organization, group coaching as proposed by Fusco, O’Riordan, and Palmer (2015)  to develop authentic self-leadership within the team can be an appropriate activity as well. Servant leadership characteristics showed global validity and could inform the coaching approach and the creation of safe learning spaces for experimentation , which can be of high value especially in multi-cultural and human-oriented communities .
Empowerment for Service, Democracy, and Value-based Management
It was a misbelief that paid Board members would remain solidary to volunteer work . Rather, a study with students found that independent commitment to service provides for meaningful learning experiences and collaborative capacity building . Democracy offers a meaningful collective leadership approach  that can enhance innovative behavior and commitment among the members who have the possibility for representation in the governance of the organization .
The members need to be offered the potential for own socio-economic success as a result from collective operation , best based on a stakeholder analysis allowing for alignment of different members’ incentives . Engagement comes from understanding the purpose, vision, and values of the organization . Indeed, value-based management helps to create a shared sense of belonging to all stakeholders , which is vital team-building success. More specifically, a formal value statement can help keeping up values required for shared leadership development. A clear positioning against external competition might eliminate internal competition , which can be achieved by training . Another proposition is journaling to analyze how members experience their service contributions, a measure that has been able to confirmed the joy of service .
Accountability for Strategic Leadership Processes: “Leading is a function, not a status.”
Every minute of volunteering should be appreciated, and different levels of engagement between and within members over time accepted. Therefore, rather than defining and assigning roles and responsibilities to which it could be challenging to adhere to, accountability should be promoted. That way leaders can freely emerge without conflicts with non-matching role descriptions . As Cannell (2018)  puts it aptly, “leading is a function, not a status.” Any, and especially also young members should be encouraged to self-nominate for leadership and management roles . Technology can support strategy processes, planning, budgeting, member and associate management, as well as communication and media . The Social Change Model of Leadership offers a framework on which leadership development programs could be built on to facilitate value-based collaborative group processes for social change  and the encouragement of new leaders .
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