Monday, July 21, 2014

Get Out on the Ledge & Enjoy the View

Every so often I get a sign that I'm not just talking to myself. Last week I got a voice mail from the head of a foundation that I've been working with for the last few years. She was excited to share that her board had committed to a multi-year grant to accelerate systems change.

Since her foundation is a traditional, programmatic grant maker a grant designed to improve the performance of a key civic system was a departure from the norm and therefore a significant risk. The board had acknowledged the risk in approving the grant. This both pleased the head of the foundation and made her nervous. She said she felt like she was out on a ledge and was hoping I could talk her off. I called back and declined her request. Instead, I congratulated her on persuading her board to make and acknowledge a risky grant. And I encouraged her to enjoy the view from the ledge. Because she was definitely on one. And I said she should make sure her board comes out on the ledge with her.

Indeed, we should all be willing to get out on the ledge more often and we definitely need to enjoy the view when we are out there. The only way we're going to achieve sustained positive change is to support efforts to advance systems change and that means taking more risks. Granted, theses efforts won't always work as planned. That's to be expected. We'll be more willing to go back out on the ledge again if we at least enjoy the view while we are out there.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2 Types of Leaders Required for Collective Impact

One of the many paradoxes of complex civic systems is that even though they are beyond the control of any single individual or organization, achieving change within those systems is still dependent on outstanding leadership. Without leadership the diverse stakeholders within the system will pursue their individual interests and fail to develop the capacity to collaborate.

Within the civic arena two distinct types of collaborative leaders are required to achieve sustained positive change. The two types of leaders are dramatically different in character and experience. One reason collaborations fail is the first kind of leader fails to recognize the need for the second kind.

The first kind of leader is the "galvanizing leader." This leader helps create what John Kania of FSG refers to as the preconditions of Collective Impact. Those preconditions are:
  1. An Influential Champion - An individual or small group who command the respect necessary to bring CEO-level cross-sector leaders together and keep them actively engaged over time
  2. Adequate Financial Resourcing -  Adequate financial resources to last at least two to three years and generally involving at least one anchor funder to support needed infrastructure and planning
  3. A Sense of Urgency for Change - A new opportunity or crisis that convinces people that a particular issue must be acted upon now and/or that a new approach is needed
I refer to these preconditions as the "climate for collaboration." Galvanizing leaders are able to change the climate within a community -- to create the sense of urgency; to secure the resources and to provide the public face for a new way of operating.

Ironically, these leaders often fail to translate their galvanizing efforts into effective collaboration because they don't value the second kind of leader critical to successful civic collaboration. I call this kind of leader the "coordinating leader."

Usually the galvanizing leader runs an organization -- they are charismatic CEOs, politicians and nonprofit leaders able to unite other leaders for a greater cause. When it comes to finding a leader of that cause they often look for a leader who looks like them -- an organizational leader. However, as Chrislip and Larson (and many others) have made clear, the leadership techniques and skills needed to foster collaboration are dramatically different than those learned by most organizational leaders.

Leaders of a collaboration need to focus on creating value for the stakeholders, not on building up an organization. Coordinating leaders exhibit what Robert Greenleaf identified as the principles of a servant leader. The listening, empathy and trust-building skills of a servant leader are often under appreciated by an organizational leader, but they are essential to foster collaboration.

Put an organizational leader at the helm of a collaboration and soon the entity formed to foster collaboration (what FSG calls a "backbone") looks like just another organization competing for funding and credit within the complex system. That is a recipe for coblaboration, not Collective Impact.