I was recently introduced to local Indigenous identity and culture in an incredibly immersive experience in Northeastern B.C. In the Peace River Valley, along the Alaska Highway in the City of Fort St. John, Aboriginal community members, industry professionals, government and representatives from various sectors were convened by residents reaching out for leadership learning and economic development opportunities to help strengthen and grow their community.
Over the course of three days, facilitator and former Chief of the Doig River First Nation Gary Oker connected us all as a way of building a network of leaders to look at incorporating traditional values into national resource development in the area. The first step of the process was about getting to know the various perspectives and personalities at play. This leadership network approach is one that is becoming integral in addressing the complex challenges being faced by communities and organizations.
Effective approaches to leadership now goes beyond the specific qualities of an individual — a set of objective characteristics, a formal position, or a status the individual possesses — and into building relational practices and activities which invite sharing, inspiring, supporting, challenging, breaking down of barriers and synthesizing what is known and unknown. In the 21st century, it’s all about building interconnected communities.
But how do you go about building your network? It takes passion, energy and endless communication. It starts slow, backed by a group of passionate, engaged, action oriented, entrepreneurial individuals who have an open mind to create space that allows for new ideas to emerge. In this approach, leaders need to demonstrate an ability to listen and a willingness to inquire. As a leader, it becomes more about knowing when to step in and when to fall back and let others lead. It’s about helping different players interact with one another by exhibiting some very human traits: generosity, reflection, vulnerability and empathy.
Engage the curious ones. Ask obvious questions to see what is needed and possible. If people are excited by that opportunity, bring them closer and connect them with others who show that drive. Begin by mapping out all the points of view at play, frame areas for finding opportunity in adversity, strengthen these concepts, and begin to move ideas into action. The collective capabilities from the network will emerge over time through a stakeholder engagement process where people are given the space to creatively co-invent solutions.
Seek out those that are open to their own development and not stuck in their own views, otherwise it will be difficult for them to engage with others. They may exist outside the conventional career paths you would typically look for, embrace that.
This doesn’t always come easy. Typically, people have little history of collaboration with one another and are not accustomed to working in this way. As a leader, your role is to slowly integrate tools to help them collaborate over time. People that are capable of this hold an understanding of the greater health of the whole community. They see organizations and communities as an ecosystem and realize that the health and well-being of their organization depends on the well-being of the larger community they are a part of. It’s best to seek out personalities that differ in style. There will be tension, but it allows people the ability to see varying opinions and perspectives different from their own.
Networks hold the capacity to truly challenge entrenched systems and create change. When done properly, collaboration among organizations and sectors presents opportunities for innovation. As a leader, you’ll have a better chance having others see your point of view by getting an understanding of theirs. People who can work in this way are more likely to see higher performance. Where this work gets snagged is when people remain focused on their area of expertise only, the part of the system they’ve had their eyes on all along. It becomes a back and forth of specific perspectives instead of a process to generate ideas targeting the larger problem.
Building these personal narratives allows you to create opportunities to face one another, tell your story and move forward with a better understanding of where people are coming from. You begin to find ways to open up to one another about your and create a shared understanding. Leveraging listening skills and reflection in this space enables leaders to truly hear a point of view different from theirs. Through this process, people can articulate deeper aspirations and build tangible accomplishments together.
Change needs to be addressed with creative and innovative solutions through establishment of a compelling vision shared by partners across the system. Get out of your comfort zone and create a safe space for thinking together and let the unexpected emerge.
Dan Buchner is vice president of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute. For nearly 30 years, he has been developing new products, creating compelling services, and helping leaders establish design and innovation capabilities to drive their success. Buchner is a sought-after international keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, media expert, and published author on innovation practices and organizational strategies.
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