Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Art of Wearing Multiple Hats

Most civic leaders wear multiple hats. But rarely does a leader wear more than one hat at a time, and this is a reason why communities struggle to achieve the level of change desired by those very leaders.

In many communities the following is a fairly common scenario for an engaged, committed corporate CEO (and most communities are blessed with many engaged, committed CEOs). The leader may start his day attending a United Way board meeting wearing his "fund drive" hat. He, his peers and his predecessors were tapped to serve on the United Way board because they could encourage their employees to contribute to the fundraising drive. Later that day he will don his "chamber" hat and listen to his peers complaining (again) about the difficulty they have finding prepared workers. And the CEO may close his busy day by putting on his "college" hat to review the building plans at the local community college.

More than likely, workforce development agencies funded by the United Way lament their inability to understand the needs of employers. And undoubtedly many of the community's employers don't think the college is graduating the types of students they're looking for.

Rare is the civic leader (whether a corporate CEO, elected official or non-profit leader) who will connect the dots between the seemingly disparate organizations he serves and foster the alignment needed to maximize the effectiveness of the community's talent development system, which includes social service agencies, the chamber and the college.

During a recent session with the board members of an important organization in a small, but self-described highly fragmented community, more than half of the members said they served on three or more boards. With that kind of commitment from civic leaders how could the community possibly be fragmented? An outsider looking at the makeup of the boards of key civic organizations might assume such communities have achieved great alignment.

More than likely the community is stuck in a state that I call "alignment without influence." All of the usual suspects are on all of the right boards, but few are skilled at wearing multiple hats simultaneously and fewer strive to create alignment among the diverse players within the complex systems that shape the community. Advocates of Collective Impact need to be skilled at identifying civic leaders who wear multiple hats and help them learn the benefits of wearing them all simultaneously.

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