Permanent Whitewater

A popular song begins, “The times they are a changing,” and never has that been so true. It was confirmed when I recently read “Future Trends in Leadership Development” from the Center for Creative Leadership. It highlights new ways for thinking about leadership and about preparing leaders.

Leadership must change for the future. We cannot continue to look for the “one” leader who will guide us and lead us to something better.

These are times of ambiguity, constant change, complexity and uncertainty and helping people develop a set of leadership “skills/competencies” is no longer sufficient. To deal with the new realities, individuals must also become more self-aware and be highly skilled at developing and using advanced networks. They need to use those networks to work collaboratively on complex issues and to develop strategies for dealing with ambiguity. The “solutions” are not evident because many of the problems are more complex and answers and possible solutions will come from new ways of thinking and new ways of people working together.

Change will be the new constant. We must deal with change in the present and then be ready to change again. Leaders must be comfortable with change and help their organizations prepare for it and deal with it.

So welcome to leadership for the 21st century. It is collaborative, inclusive and champions change now and in the future. The future is permanent white water and enlightened leadership will help us navigate the waves and rocks in our paths.

Yes to Collaboration

Collaboration and teamwork are now hallmarks in most business settings as well as in the nonprofit sector.  In her article in the NY Times on Sunday, Jan. 15, Susan Cain expresses her concern that so much collaboration and focus on teams in our workplaces, educational institutions and nonprofit settings may be negative for innovation and creativity.  She worries about “groupthink” and points out the need for individuals to spend some time alone, engaging in creative thinking.

Our work over the last ten years posits a more positive view of collaboration and teamwork.  We have worked with over sixty teams of highly skilled executives in a leadership development program and have seen creativity and innovation flourish.  These teams are composed of 5-7 persons and have individuals from both the corporate and nonprofit sectors.  The teams also are diverse by race, ethnicity and gender.  The persons involved have never met until they become part of the leadership development program for emerging executives (average age 37).

They have come up with innovative and creative ideas on a variety of issues dealing with topics such as how to attract and retain young professionals in our region.  Some of the work recommended innovative ways for strengthening corporate social responsibility as a retention device. Other work suggested innovative ways for using internships  across sectors  as an avenue to attract talented college graduates to remain in our region.  Another project linked healthy lifestyles with sound financial strategies.  Many of the ideas emanating from the teams have been adopted throughout the region.

What we have observed is that as diverse teams of people, who had never worked together, dealt with civic and economic issues of importance to the region, many new and creative ideas emerged. The individuals on the teams also form long lasting relationships across sectors, which has enormous benefits to our region.  Several from the business sector have already joined prominent nonprofit boards and become involved in civic issues on a level not seen before.

Collaboration can have positive benefits to individuals in organizations and provide them with new ways to use their skills. So let’s not give up on collaboration so easily.  Yes, avoid “groupthink” but collaboration and teamwork also can bring benefits in developing new strategies and tackling complex problems that should not be ignored.

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