Today, leaders across the country are dealing with large and complex social issues—issues that require greater collaboration between nonprofits, government, for-profits, and citizens. However, true community-level collaboration has proven to be difficult. Large-scale impact work requires that leaders place community results above their own organization’s needs and engage diverse stakeholders in addressing issues together. Focusing simultaneously on ensuring a shared understanding of a goal across diverse stakeholders and executing a plan to achieve that goal can be challenging for leaders—yet it is so important.
By investing in values-based, results-driven leadership, organizations can better speak and act across sectors toward greater goals, and effectively collaborate with others to create sustainable solutions that really do move the needle.
Let’s look at one example. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count program has ranked New Mexico among the worst states for youth well-being for the past two years. The report looks at 16 data points across four domains—economic well-being, education, health, and family/community—to assess how children are faring in each state. This developing trend prompted Adrian Carver, program manager for the New Mexico Forum for Youth in Community, to seek a different way to improve outcomes for New Mexico’s youth. Working with a coalition of youth advocacy organizations in 2013, Carver helped create a new campaign focused on building greater support for the young people of New Mexico in the state legislature.
With input from all partners, the campaign brought youth well-being to life by coupling real youth stories (shared by youth in personal meetings with elected officials) with relevant state and county data. The campaign worked: The legislature increased public funding for school-based health centers—a recommendation backed by research that will positively impact New Mexico youth now and in the future.
Carver was able to help lead the youth advocacy efforts because he and his partners understood how to work together while maintaining focus on the common results they were seeking and based on values they shared. Leaders who are too process-driven can have trouble moving to action, and those too focused on results often create solutions in a vacuum that ultimately prove unsustainable. If we are to better address the challenges facing our communities, the nonprofit sector needs to invest in developing a workforce that is both values-based and results-driven.
So how do we do get there? Organizations and leaders can develop this capacity by constantly asking themselves questions such as:
- What does our organization truly value? How do we prove a consistent commitment to these values in all of our work?
- What is our organizational vision for the world? How do we measure progress toward that vision?
- How are we engaging with others toward the realization of our vision in a way that helps us achieve more together than we can individually?
- How do we seek learning, and how does that learning inform how we continually improve our practice and organization?
- How do we engage our staff in conversations about the qualities it takes to lead, and provide them safe space to struggle with the practice of leadership?
In my interviews with leaders like Carver, whose leadership practice has produced real results in communities, there is a common theme: Though specific goals and partnerships vary, shared values and focus on results lead to success. Leaders that have a vision for change, know how to work with and engage others in that vision, and measure progress toward shared goals make change happen. And, as others who have contributed to this series have indicated, investment in the development of leaders throughout an organization may be the biggest contributor to its long-term success.