This is the eighth in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change. This series was introduced in a previous post.
“We’ve tried to create shared leadership, but it hasn’t worked well.” I’ve heard this statement—or versions of it—many times as I’ve presented our top 10 insights on creating transformational change to audiences across the country.
I find that those committed to social change increasingly are open to the concept of shared leadership. We understand that the old “know-it-all, do-it-all” style of leadership is history. We are seeing more examples of shared leadership inside successful organizations. These organizations maximize their human resources by empowering staff members to demonstrate leadership in their areas of expertise.
We also find that organizations are increasingly sharing leadership across organizational boundaries to solve complex problems. We see backbone organizations, such as Rollback Malaria—a global network, made up of some 500 partner organizations and agencies that fight malaria —demonstrating this new leadership model. There is an understanding that no one nonprofit, corporation, or government division can eradicate malaria, reduce the dropout crisis, or eliminate homelessness on its own. Yet, while we grasp this type of shared leadership intellectually, we don’t pursue it enough. And when we do, we struggle to do it well, because, quite frankly, it’s hard.
While I don’t profess to have all the answers regarding shared leadership, I would like to share a hypothesis as to one of the fundamental steps that is frequently overlooked. When organizations are trying to create shared leadership internally—that is, within their own organization—building a culture of trust is critical. Patrick Lencioni, in Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers and Facilitators, underscores this point when discussing shared leadership inside organizations.
Why would this be any different when we’re trying to create shared leadership across organizational boundaries? All those organizational retreats packed with ropes courses, team skits and other team-building activities are focused on fostering personal connections and trust. Yet, when we try to create shared leadership across a community, we tend to throw people with different organizational cultures and structures together and task them with collaborating and coming up with a common goal. Often this leaves individuals wondering, why should I do this? What’s in it for me and my organization? Will the others in the room take my ideas, my funding, etc.? Will this really increase impact?
It is my opinion that stakeholders working on any given issue must come together with their colleagues and build a foundation for shared leadership by fostering personal connections and trust among themselves. By so doing their varied perspectives and backgrounds can become assets for one another instead of barriers to progress.
So I challenge you to develop a plan for building a foundation and culture of trust. Perhaps you can facilitate a series of retreats to create safe space and time for individuals to get to know one another on a personal level and share life stories, concerns, and different perspectives. And, as always, clear expectations and excellent facilitation are critical.
We know that building a foundation of trust isn’t the only key to success for shared leadership, but it is important and often overlooked. By fostering trust between members, it should be easier and more comfortable to tackle many of the larger issues you will face as a group.
What are some of the other keys to success you’ve discovered? Send us your thoughts via twitter @WeDreamForward.