Cascading Leadership coaching support: Voluntary sector leaders supporting their peers

This content relates to the following topics:

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  • Are you the leader of a small voluntary or community sector organisation with income of less than £500,000 working in health and wellbeing?
  • Do you want to develop your leaderships skills so you can increase your organisation’s impact and influence?
  • Do you sometimes feel isolated or overwhelmed by the challenges of running your organisation?
  • Are you the most senior staff member in your organisation – or the deputy?

If so, coaching through Cascading Leadership may be for you.

What is Cascading Leadership?

Our leadership offer

Cascading Leadership is a peer-to-peer coaching support offer, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, that has worked with more than 200 voluntary and community sector (VCS) leaders since 2016.

Through one-to-one coaching sessions, Cascading Leadership supports VCS leaders to tackle challenging issues more effectively, be more strategic, strengthen relationships both internally and in the wider health and care system, combat the isolation felt by many leaders, and build confidence and resilience.

How does it work?

'Someone else giving up time for you in this way can be quite magical.'

Voluntary sector leader (2019)

Cascading Leadership coaches will offer around five one-to-one sessions over a period of five to eight months to new or emerging leaders wanting support. They can also work with more experienced leaders who are seeking a positive critical-peer perspective. During the months they are delivering this support, coaches are supervised by senior leadership consultants at The King’s Fund. Coaching sessions are currently undertaken remotely and at a time mutually convenient to both parties.

We are keen to ensure funding is not a barrier to participating and you may be able to access some help towards the costs (see more below).  

Browse the directory of coaches below to identify which coach you would be most interested in working with, and complete our online form to register your expression of interest.

What difference can coaching support make?

In a constantly changing environment, VCS leaders need to build flexible and resilient organisations and strong partnerships, be outward facing and solution focused. Cascading Leadership can not only help leaders to strengthen their organisations but also enable them to work more collaboratively, more strategically and have more impact across the health and care system.

Cascading Leadership, which has been externally evaluated, has strengthened organisations in the health and social care sectors by supporting and developing effective leadership. Past participants say they have been able to tackle challenging issues more effectively, and feel they can make stronger, more strategic decisions. They also feel more confident and less isolated.

Although the intervention is relatively modest and time-bound, participants feel the benefits over the longer term, saying they could think and act more strategically long after their coaching support had formally ended.

'I applied because I recognised that we were entering a new era of change in health and social care, which demands approaches to collaboration, impact and influencing. For me I knew that I needed to evolve into the next level of leadership to be effective as a leader.'

Participant (2020)

'I had been blocked, but with the time to reflect and the coach’s support I was able to deal with the Board far more strategically. I now have a better relationship with them and a strategy in place. I've also been able to work on making better partnerships with the local sector.' 

Participant (2020)

How to apply

Browse our directory of available coaches and express your interest by completing the online form.

Browse and apply

Frequently asked questions

Cascading Leadership is aimed at leaders of health and wellbeing organisations with an annual income of less than £500,000 who would like support in leading their organisations.

'I applied because I recognised that we were entering a new era of change in health and social care, which demands approaches to collaboration, impact and influencing. For me I knew that I needed to evolve into the next level of leadership to be effective as a leader.'

Participant (2020)

Cascading Leadership works to a particular coaching model that asks leaders to ‘go below the surface’, so we welcome applications from those who wish to dig deep, reflect on their practice and find their own solutions. Coaches are trained to help leaders do this, but they are not there to do the work for them. They will not deliver a funding strategy, for example, or develop a business plan, but they can help leaders work out what’s causing the problem or why they feel stuck, and what they might be able to do differently to find a way through. From our experience, we know that participants who are prepared to work in this way get the most from participating in the programme. Cascading Leadership can offer a unique opportunity to help VCS leaders provide clear direction within their organisation, recognise and build the strengths of their staff and volunteers, work effectively with their board and, importantly, increase their impact across the health and care systems.

If you are a leader who has previously faced barriers in accessing this type of support because of cost, opportunity or access, we particularly encourage you to apply. Coaches are especially keen to work with leaders from VCS organisations working with the most disadvantaged communities, in areas with traditionally poor health outcomes, and those led by and for people from ethnic minority communities, people who are disabled, women, older people, and people from LGBTQ+ communities.

In a constantly changing environment, VCS leaders need to build flexible and resilient organisations and strong partnerships, be outward facing and solution focused. Cascading Leadership can not only help leaders to strengthen their organisations but also enable them to work more collaboratively, more strategically and have more impact across the health and care system.

The Cascading Leadership programme, which has been externally evaluated, has strengthened organisations in the health and social care sectors by supporting and developing effective leadership. Past participants say they:

  • have been able to tackle challenging issues more effectively
  • feel they can make stronger, more strategic decisions
  • feel more confident and less isolated.

Although the intervention is relatively modest and time-bound, participants feel the benefits over the longer term, saying they could think and act more strategically long after the programme had formally ended.

The Cascading Leadership programme has been externally evaluated by specialist evaluation and learning partner m2 at all stages of its development. Evaluations have consistently reported that individuals taking part, their organisations and the wider VCS sector benefit from Cascading Leadership coaching.

Outcomes for participants

More strategic thinking and better decision-making

My [coach] really helped me to understand what was going on behind the scenes. As a result, I’ve now got a strategy, and some approaches I can use with the Board to take it forward.

Participant (2019)

Tackling challenging issues more effectively

Our main challenge has been adapting to the changes we are just about to embark on. Cascading Leadership has enabled me to focus positively on the changes and what the future may look like. I have also been able to encourage my team to embrace change positively.

Participant (2019)

Reduced isolation

I’ve had a wonderful experience with the Cascading Leadership programme having been matched with an empathic and supportive mentor… it was very helpful to be able to tap into the advice and experience of someone who had established skills in my sector.

Participant (2020)

Outcomes for coaches

Developing and putting into practice specific skills as leaders

I believe I have become more aware of my relationships, the impact that the unspoken can have, and also that I have gained insight into working with a partner organisation in a way that allowed me to reflect back on my own organisation.

Cascading Leadership coach (2019)

Stronger external relationships with key stakeholders

I feel the programme has enabled me to address some of the issues around working with local partners. This has been relevant to influencing the agenda set by local statutory organisations and to encouraging collaboration within the sector.

Cascading Leadership coach (2019)

Supporting the local sector

I will continue to use the skills I developed within my own organisation but also to support local smaller voluntary sector CEOs as best I can, having gained a better understanding of the issues and dilemmas faced by CEOs who feel unsupported in their roles.

Cascading Leadership coach (2020)

Both Cascading Leadership coaches and participants highlight the critical importance of time and space to reflect. Given the pressure leaders are under – to deliver their services, to support staff, to help their organisations to survive – having time away from pressing actions to think about the wider organisational and sectoral context, and to consider their own approach to dealing with issues is viewed as both vital and very helpful. Participants find sessions provide a time out’ to think (in new ways) and develop strategies to tackle internal organisational challenges, as well as challenges regarding their own behaviour/outlooks, and their place in the external environment.

Cascading Leadership is summed up by evaluators m2 as: '…pioneering, operating as it does within the nexus of individual and organisation… and offers an authoritative way of building leadership in complex systems and challenging contexts.'

All Cascading Leadership coaches are leaders from Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations so they understand how challenging running a community-based organisation can be. They have all been trained by The King’s Fund, which means they are skilled and consistent in their approach. Coaches are supervised by The King’s Fund throughout the coaching process to ensure they can offer the most useful approaches and continue to learn what is effective.

Cascading Leadership coaches recognise the challenges of working in complex environments. They know that Covid-19 has considerably raised the risk of burnout within the VCS sector and want to give something back. Their strong belief in the value of the VCS has prompted a generous offer to support their peers, through the Cascading Leadership coaching offer.

The coach's role is to help leaders reflect on what stands in their way and/or them develop their leadership, asking key questions at the right time, in a way that is supportive and non-judgemental. Participants are offered space to reflect, to question and to find solutions.

The cost of the coaching programme is £800. This recognises the time and commitment the coaches put in and is a payment to their organisations, not a personal fee. None of the cost comes to The King’s Fund, and it does not cover the cost of The King’s Fund supervision for the coaches.

If your organisation is unable to fund the coaching sessions, there are a number of ways you could cover the cost:

  • There are a small number of bursaries available from The King’s Fund, generously funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, for those organisations that are unable to pay. These are available to organisations with an annual turnover of less than £150,000, those working with ethnic minority communities or other under-represented groups and leaders who have not received leadership support before.
  • If your organisation is receiving funding from a grant-making charity you could ask if they have funds available to support this type of development of the organisations they fund. Many funders are willing to do this.
  • If you have been told about this opportunity by a funder, it is likely that they have already agreed to cover the cost of you taking part.

If you can pay for the coaching sessions, please do so to allow those who need it to benefit from the limited bursary scheme.

The King’s Fund recognises the importance of the VCS in tackling health inequalities and influencing the way in which services are commissioned, delivered, and reviewed. It has developed Cascading Leadership in partnership with independent funders and VCS representatives and knows that, for the programme to be successful and sustainable, much of the activity must be led by the leaders themselves.

The King’s Fund’s role is to connect leaders and coaches (by creating this platform), to retain an overview of take up, and, together with the sector, find a sustainable future. It is not involved in directly matching leaders with a coach or in troubleshooting issues that may arise.

The National Lottery Community Fund has generously supported the programme to date and provided the resources to create this coaching platform. It is not responsible for its implementation.