The CEO view on cross-sector collaboration

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Peter Unwin reflects on what he learned from leadership programmes involving various sectors

Peter Unwin is chief executive of the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG). Before joining WIG he was director general, policy delivery at Defra. While at Defra he benefited from WIG’s initiatives, taking part in leadership programmes that allowed him to meet and share with leaders from the private sector. He reflects on what he learned.

“We go into our first jobs almost at random. I went into the Civil Service thinking I’d stay for a couple of years, and stayed for 38. Your skills deepen as you go, but you narrow as well. If you get to the top of the private sector you have that profit and outcome focus. If you get to the top of the civil service you’re going to be fantastic at complexity, and dealing with different objectives and winners and losers and reputation. If you’re going to be a leader in either sector ideally you want all of those. But on each route you get narrowed. One of the benefits of bringing people together at a senior level is you learn from each other.

"The second benefit is that increasingly now in any job you need to deal with people from across all the sectors. When I first joined government, if there was a problem you either taxed or regulated to solve it. Now we can’t tax much any more and nobody likes regulation… Brexit, industrial strategy, solving climate change… all of those need government, business and the voluntary sector to work together. You can only work together effectively if you understand the constraints the other side has to work within.

"It also gives you a network. Leadership is a lonely occupation. Who do you speak to about your mad ideas? Having a trusted network of peers outside the organisation is a fantastic asset.”

Further reading

The rise of the cross-sector HRD

Learning to see the commonalities between private and public sector work

Public vs. private vs. third sector HR: The unique challenges

What I've learned from a multi-sector career

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