- Physical Development Projects -- Infrastructure and amenities are critical to the vibrancy of our communities and business leaders often lead campaigns for parks, new development districts, roads, airports and similar efforts. These are transaction-driven projects and lend themselves to clear timelines and hierarchical design. Interestingly, these projects don't likely have a direct impact on the bottom line of a company providing the leadership. Yes, a business will benefit from the building of a new waterfront district that will make the city more attractive and therefore help attract or retain talent, but that benefit is very indirect.
- Competitiveness Projects -- A community's competitiveness is determined by several factors, including its inclusiveness, its innovation capacity, its entrepreneurial climate and the educational attainment and skills of its residents. Improving competitiveness requires us to deal with complex systems made up of multiple stakeholders. These systems are beyond anyone's control. Systems maps are needed, in addition to org charts. Transactional activity alone will not produce sufficient change to achieve our goals. The quality of of the system's outcomes are a direct reflection of how well the players within the system interact with each other. These projects have a more direct impact on a company's performance as the systems involved determine the kinds of talent and innovation that are readily accessible.
Most of us (whether we work in the public, private or nonprofit arenas) aren't nearly as comfortable working within systems beyond our control. We are trained in the linear world of complicated systems much more than the emergent world of complex systems. And most of all we don't like being dependent on others. The skills needed to lead in such environments are dramatically different from the skills needed within a business.
Business leaders can develop the skills to lead in complex systems -- indeed there are many complex systems within the business world that require different leadership skills. But generally speaking, business leaders are more comfortable leading a transaction than they are leading through complexity.
We know that to achieve sustained, positive community change we must deal with complex issues that shape our economic competitiveness. To achieve that change, we must help our business leaders (as well as other civic leaders) develop the skills required to lead in complex systems.