Leadership in cooperative and mutual enterprises: A difference that makes cooperatives resilient

How is leadership in cooperative and mutual enterprises different from leadership in corporate settings? This was the theme of Richard Fortier's presentation at the annual conference of the...

How is leadership in cooperative and mutual enterprises different from leadership in corporate settings? This was the theme of Richard Fortier’s presentation at the annual conference of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF) in San José, Costa Rica. Mr. Fortier is a good person to talk about leadership. He retired in July from his position as Desjardins Financial Security’s chief operating officer. He offered an overview of the management writers and thinkers who have studied the differences in leadership in cooperative and mutual settings.* Mr. Fortier referred to a number of authors, including Henry Mintzberg and his notion of “communityship,” Edith Luc and her concept of “shared leadership,” and Rune Olsen and his idea of “rule by the people.” These authors all talk about sharing power among the members of a given community or cooperative enterprise. “Within a group, leadership is shared by a number of people as a function of their skills and abilities: that is what’s known as cooperative governance,” Mr. Fortier said. He also said that leadership within a cooperative or a mutual cannot be assumed by one person alone. “Leadership must be shared because that’s what makes us who we are and what has enabled cooperatives and mutuals to withstand the current economic crisis and perform better. People move on, but the shared mindset remains.” Finally, Mr. Fortier emphasized that cooperative interests are long term, reflect the different perspectives of the stakeholders and respect the balance between financial health, community development and social responsibility. “By making balance and social responsibility a central part of all its activities, the cooperative culture truly encourages the emergence, practice and development of leadership,” he said. Experiences to share at the 2012 Summit While the underlying values of leadership in cooperatives and mutuals are the same, the way leadership is exercised varies between businesses, business sectors and countries. This is why Richard Fortier invited ICMIF/Americas conference attendees to participate in the International Summit of Cooperatives taking place next year in Quebec City, Canada, from October 8 to 11, 2012. “The issues I’ve addressed here will be explored further through discussions between those who exercise this form of leadership every day, in cooperatives and mutuals active in different parts of the world and different economic sectors,” Richard Fortier said. * To explore in greater depth the ideas of leadership in cooperative and mutual businesses addressed by Richard Fortier, you can download the following documents: – PowerPoint presentation from the conference (in English and Spanish) – Conference transcript (in English and Spanish)

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