Co-op leadership Q&A: Simon Parkinson, the Co-operative College

The chief executive and principal of the College discusses a 'values-based, adaptive' approach

If co-operatives are different in form and function from both charitable organisations and private organisations then the leadership and management of them should look and feel different. 

We can take the best from other sectors and bring it together in something I refer to as a values-based, adaptive leadership approach.

Co-ops at their best can be positive disruptors and the multiple ways in which they organise lends itself less to a top-down command-and-control style of leadership (rowing boat – one person barking orders and everyone else conforming) and much more to a servant leadership approach (steering from the back helping people drive the organisation in a generally agreed direction and watching out for rocks).

This takes real authenticity from leaders (and leaders may be colleagues or members) and requires a strong value base and resilience. While many organisations spend a lot of time and money working out what their organisational values should be, the co-op movement already has an internationally agreed set of values.

This should be part of what unites us as a movement and could be a benchmark or at least a starting point for developing co-operative leadership approaches. If co-ops and co-op leaders were truly living the values we would measure success differently and this would add to our uniqueness as a movement.

The College wants to play its role in educating leaders of co-operatives and has a varied and blended approach to this which recognises the benefits of both formal and informal, accredited and unaccredited learning. So not just MBAs or even MCAs for middle and senior colleagues in co-operatives, but a range of learning experiences where members and colleagues can come together and learn from each other and explore what makes co-ops different.

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