Saturday, July 30, 2011

Catalysts for Collaboration

Yesterday we had the opportunity to explore leadership issues and answers with a group of leaders from the non-profit sector.  The question which framed the conversation was - "could you produce better results with better alignment between the organization's board of directors, staff members, and funding partners?"  Of course the answer was a resounding - "YES".  The steps to causing leadership alignment in this world may offer hints to many kinds of leaders.  Here were a few take aways from the dialogue.

Creating, protecting, and nurturing an environment of alignment and collaboration requires a lot of time, patience, endurance, consistency, and courage.  Open communication for creative thinking, problem solving, and honest communication requires extraordinary trust, common goals, respect for others, self confidence, and commitment to the goals of the organization.  Catalysts for collaboration and alignment must be part guide, facilitator, counselor, and enforcer to ensure all members of the conversation have a voice, are  committed to the goals of the group, debate and create in a dignified environment, and make necessary progress.  This is not an easy job - the general consensus was that on the best days this is like "herding cats".

Someone has to be willing to make some tough requests to keep the group aligned and effective; a leader has to be the standard bearer for accountability and expectations.   Common leadership issues from the non-profit world that drag down organizational impact are:  founders who won't let the organization grow, board members who control the conversation through force of personality, ineffective board members and volunteers who do not meet minimum  commitment standards, executive directors which learn how to control the board for their personal benefit.  These are leadership issues which must be dealt with quickly and delicately by an effective leader.  Usually this will be the ultimate responsibility of the board president.

Most board presidents are not properly prepared for the leadership challenges and expectations in the non-profit world.  Most do not have the experience of aligning such a diverse group of leaders.  Most board presidents have great intentions but cannot put aside the time to deal with the litany of problems and possibilities non-profit organizations face.  It's not their primary priority.

Most of the alignment issues keeping the leadership teams ineffective our solvable.  All leaders - board members, staff members, and funding partners have similar desires - they want to make a difference, they want to be heard, they want respect, they want recognition, they want to be a part of something special, they want information, they want results, they want ideas, they want to succeed.  Most of the issues which impact alignment are universal - lack of trust, lack of focus, poor communication, lack of commitment, personal agendas, lack of coordinated planning and execution, etc... - all of which destroy potential.

The good news?  Every time leaders engage in this conversation with other leaders - they see possibility for personal and organizational change and progress.  It takes time and effort but collaboration and alignment will accelerate results.  The question usually comes down to - who will lead the collaborative effort?

Are you the catalyst for your team?

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