From Healthiest Wisconsin 2020: Everyone Living Better, Longer


Slide Show:



“People want to be engaged in civic life. They want their views heard, understood and considered. They want to know that their involvement will make a difference, and that the public, not governments or special interest groups, defines the public interest.” Chrislip and Larson, Collaborative Leadership,

Collaborative Leadership, What is it? Taking a leadership role in a coalition, organization, or enterprise where:

• Everyone is on an equal footing.

• Participants work together to solve a problem, create something new, or run an organization / initiative.

• The leader relies on the group to work with both content and substance.

• The leader promotes and safeguards the process 


-Inspire commitment and action

-Use collaborative problem-solving and decision-making

-It’s an open process with no set end-point when it begins

-The end-point is worked out by the group – that’s collaboration.

-Lead as a peer problem solver

-Build broad-based involvement

-Sustain hope and participation



-More involvement in implementation

-Trust building

-Eliminate turf issues

-Access to more and better information / ideas

-Increased opportunity for results

-Generates new leaders

-Empowers collective action at the community and  organizational levels

-Offers a fundamental “change for the better” in the ways communities and organizations operate


This is consistent with John Kesler’s vision of inclusive, consensus-oriented civil discourse. This strongly aligns with the concepts of the “healthy communities” movement. John Kesler, Healthy Communities and Civil Discourse, 2000


-Time consuming

-Demands an ability to face conflict directly

-Need to overcome resistance to the whole idea of collaborative leadership

-Some may accuse the leader of not doing his/her job

-Some prefer authority figures making decisions or telling them “what to do”

-Some people may be used to authoritarian approaches

• Discomfort with uncertainty

• Old notions of the leader as “hero”


WHEN NOT TO USE ITCollaborative leadership may not work well in:

– Command-and-control environments (military combat, epidemic control)

– Rigorous approaches to ascertaining scientific evidence / scientific approaches

 WHEN TO USE IT:  Collaborative leadership works well:

– When the timing is right

– When problems are serious / complex

– Where there are a number of stakeholders with varied interests / perspectives

– When other attempts at solutions have not worked

– When an issue affects a whole organization or large portion of a community

– When inclusiveness and empowerment are goals from the beginning


Thought to Consider“The strategies and approaches we take may not be the ultimate solutions to today’s problems but they must be an improved evolving expression of an ideal.” Adapted from How Your Child Is Smart, Donna Marcova, page 31

 Creative Tension– Tension here does not mean anxiety or stress or emotional tension.

– It’s a force when we acknowledge our vision is at odds with current reality.

– When we feel the vision is too high, we naturally ask to lower the vision.

– We lower the vision when we fear failure (including personal failure). We are tempted to quit.

– We should do the opposite – elevate current reality instead of lowering the vision – keep our visions high. Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline


Balancing Advocacy / Inquiry

-Advocacy can cut off inquiry; most importantly, it can cut off learning.

-Without inquiry, advocacy begets more advocacy and positions become hardened. There’s no forward movement. Creates escalation of problems.

-Inquiry (asking questions) such as: – “What leads you to that position?” – “Can you illustrate your point for me?”

-What questions might you ask to foster inquiry? Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline


-When we balance inquiry and advocacy, we create opportunities for dialogue.

-Remember: dialogue is generative. It creates new knowledge; Knowledge stimulates learning by people and by stakeholders.

Suggested reading: Dialogic Leadership – William Isaacs, Vol.10, No. 1, Systems Thinker

Peter Senge and William Isaacs, combined sources


Characteristics / Traits of Collaborative Leaders

-Trusted and respected

-Relate to people easily

-Good facilitators


-Nurture new and emerging leaders

-Safeguard the process

-Motivated to find solutions to real problems

-Focus on what’s best for the group, the organization or the community as a whole

-Focus on broad rather than narrow-interest issues


Effective Collaborative Leaders – Five practices:

1. Lead the process

2. Understand the context in the given situation

3. Motivate

4. Be flexible and persistent

5. Set aside one’s ego


Collaborative Leadership Practice #1: Establish, maintain and safeguard the collaborative process. Help the group to:

       -Set norms

       -Assure everyone gets heard, Encourage and model inclusiveness

       -Foster real connections between people

  -Mediate conflicts / disputes

– Create mechanisms to solicit ideas

– Maintain collaborative problem solving / decisions

– Push the group toward effectiveness

– Choose doable projects first, to build confidence and demonstrate group success


Collaborative Leadership Practice #2: Know the leadership context:

–The community or organization

–The nature of the problem


Collaborative Leadership Practice #3: Motivate, motivate, motivate

–Be upbeat even when things look bleak

-Keep the group focused on the future –

-Keep focused on the bigger picture

-Identify and celebrate small successes

-Guard against discouragement and burn-out


Collaborative Leadership Practice #4: Be flexible, yet be unyielding

–         Be flexible:

•         Try new ideas including ideas from unusual or unlikely sources

•         Change course as the situation demands

•         Let go of something that isn’t working

•         Create opportunities for more participation


–         Be unyielding:

•         Protect the integrity of an open, collaborative process

•         Practice inclusiveness

•         Keep the group on track

•         Advocate for the best interests of the group as a whole


Collaborative Leadership Practice #5: Check your ego at the door

-Let go of your own ego

-Forget about being a “hero” or taking credit

-Contribute to problem-solving as a member

-Accept the decisions of the group

 Aligning Problem Type and Leadership Approaches:

1. Directive leader – role as expert- Solves the problem; gives instructions

2. Dual leader – role as directive and coach- Solicits group involvement; asks for input; encourages; meet people’s needs; may bring in an expert. Leader may ultimately make the decision.

3. Collaborative leader- Listens; praise; asks for input; gives feedback; facilitates and encourages confidence and motivation; creates learning through dialogue by balancing inquiry and advocacy.

 Closing Remarks: “Leaders know some of the most critically important tasks require lateral leadership, boundary crossing leadership involving groups over whom one has little control. They must exercise leader-like influence beyond the system over which they preside. They must do what they can to lead without authority.” John Gardner, On Leadership

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