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  Collaboration: The New Leadership

How does real change happen? In the civic arena, how do leaders really make a difference?

Collaboration: The New Leadership by David ChrislipWith voter turnout at record low levels across North America, with apathy and frustration with all levels of government the norm, David Chrislip offers a way forward. David, the co-author of Collaborative Leadership, has spent the past 30 years helping people enhance their leadership capacities and create visions and strategies for their organizations and communities by working together. The broader purpose of his work is to build civil society.

Traditional models of leadership simply do not work in our increasingly diverse and complex society. Collaboration is a positive way to make conscious, inclusive decisions on community issues. Collaboration is the new leadership.

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Meet the Speaker

David ChrislipDavid D. Chrislip is Principal of Skillful Means. He has spent the past 30 years helping people enhance their leadership capacities and create visions and strategies for their organizations and communities by working together. The broader purpose of his work is to build civil society. His work focuses on three areas: civic leadership development, collaboratively addressing complex community issues, and organizational strategy and development. His roles include research, writing, process design, capacity building, leadership coaching and consulting, and facilitation.

He has served as a Senior Associate of the National Civic League and as Vice President of Research and Development for American Leadership Forum. He is the co-founder of the Denver Community Leadership Forum. He has taught graduate courses in leadership and ethics at the University of Denver and at the University of Colorado at Denver. For 20 years, he was a senior Course Director with the Colorado Outward Bound School and the National Outdoor Leadership School. Previously he served in financial management positions with The Boeing Company.

An experienced seminar leader and consultant, David has worked with many communities and organizations, both nationally and internationally, and has conducted leadership development programs for several thousand students, managers and community leaders. He has written a number of published articles on politics, civic engagement, and civil society and is the co-author, with Carl Larson, of Collaborative Leadership: How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994) and author of The Collaborative Leadership Fieldbook: A Guide for Citizens and Civic Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002).

David received his B.A. degree (1966) from Oklahoma State University in economics and history, an M.S. degree (1970) from Wichita State University in economics, and an M.P.A. degree (1982) from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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Notes & audio clip from our seminar

The Collaborative Premise

The collaborative premise says: If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization and community.

Each component of the premise is important:

  1. You must bring the appropriate people together – the collaboration must be broadly inclusive
  2. You must bring people together in constructive ways – design the process so that it can deal with different understandings of the issues, varying degrees of trust, and so that the process encourages people to work together
  3. Good information is critical to good decision-making – Involve experts in the process as informers, rather than drivers of the process.

Why do we need collaborative leadership?

Our traditional models of leadership do not serve us well, especially in our increasingly diverse and complex society. Our default position is often to simply avoid making a conscious decision. We choose to focus on a solution rather than a process that brings us to a solution. We can make conscious, inclusive decisions on a community issue – collaboration is a positive way to do this.

The pervasive concept of leadership is that of the heroic leader – they have a vision, they assert it, they persuade us, and they gain followers. Collaborative leadership turns that concept upside down simply by saying that if we bring good people together in constructive ways, we will be able to push forward. We need to remember that how we decide is as important as what we decide. The quality of engagement reflects the quality of our decisions, and ultimately, the quality of our outcomes.

Successful Collaboration

Successful collaborations produce results that are:

  1. Tangible and substantial responses to presenting issues
  2. Systemic, not just symptomatic or reactive – reach a deeper understanding of the real problem
  3. Sustainable, because collaboration gets to the heart of the matter. When collaboration works, it builds social capital that helps us to prepare to deal with future issues in constructive ways.

The four critical aspects to collaboration are:

  1. A focus for collaboration – frame the issue in such a way so that there is something to collaborate about.
  2. Inclusivity – collaborations that work tend to err on the involvement of too many people, not too few. Be sure your stakeholder group includes the usual and unusual voices, and reflects the broader community.
  3. A constructive process to deal with the diversity of people involved – a good collaborative process increases shared understanding of the issue.
  4. Presence of strong facilitative leaders within the stakeholder group – leaders focus on process, convening, catalyzing, and sustaining the process. They are not advocates or directors.

These are 10 key elements found in all successful community collaborations. They include:

  1. Good timing and clear need.
  2. Strong stakeholder groups.
  3. Broad-based involvement.
  4. Credibility and openness of process.
  5. Commitment and/or involvement of high-level, visible leaders.
  6. Support or acquiescence of "established" authorities or powers.
  7. Ability to overcome mistrust and skepticism.
  8. Strong leadership of the process.
  9. Interim successes.
  10. A shift to broader concerns.

It is important to remember that collaboration is more than a tool in a toolbag. When collaboration works, it reproduces and build the characteristics of civic community, allowing us to deal with future issues in constructive ways. Collaboration builds social capital. Collaboration is the new leadership.

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Additional material & learning resources

  • The New Civic Leadership – In this article, David writes that we need a new form of leadership for the civic arena. This leadership must come from new and diverse sources, and its practice must take a radically different form. Read more here!
  • Leaders & Leaderful Communities – Check out this page on leaders, leadership and leaderful communities. Watch video clips on the Leadership Challenge and read some of Paul’s work on leadership here.

Click here for more resources on Collaboration!

Resources mentioned during the seminar:





















Audio Description

The New Leadership
(Runs 01:00:50)

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