Sunday, February 22, 2015

Organizational Leaders and Civic Change

A powerful recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review highlighted two truths known by anyone works in the civic arena:

  • Sustained positive change requires cross-sector collaboration.
  • Most collaborations fail because of a lack of leadership.
The authors make a compelling case that we need more "systems leaders" able to navigate the harrowing waters inherent within the complex, messy systems that make up our respective communities. The authors highlight the difficulty of being a systems leader, and offer insight on the core capabilities that systems leadership requires.

Implicit in the article was something that I believe needs to be explicit: Organizational leaders need to know that systems leadership is distinct from organizational leadership. Nearly every leader I know began their leadership journey as part of an organization. By the time the organizational leader is tapped by others or decides on their own to engage in the civic arena they are well versed and skilled at using organizational structures, lines of authority and established processes to catalyze change.

The problem is that within the civic arena those structures, lines and processes are either blurry or non-existent. The civic arena is all about complex systems. When dealing with education, workforce, food security, public safety, economic development, public health etc. we are dealing with systems that consist of multiple, diverse stakeholders who operate independent of each other; and there is an absence of control.

The complexity of civic systems demands the kind of systems leadership described in the article.

The first step to making the transition from leading within an organization to leading within a complex civic system is recognizing that a transition is required.

1 comment:

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