Everything I Learned About Collaborative Leadership
Over the last few weeks, I have been working together with a team to prepare a proposal in response to The Children's Trust (TCT) Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) "Safe and Supportive Communities: Place-Based Service Partnerships for At-Risk Populations." The purpose of this competitive solicitation is to identify 16 place-based service partnerships to address child abuse prevention, truancy prevention, and violence by providing multiple supports to at-risk children and families in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
At the core of this work is the creation of collaborative partnerships between non-profit organizations, grassroots organizations, faith-based organizations, local schools, parents/caregivers, government agencies, and other stakeholders who touch the lives of at-risk children. I believe that these collaborative partnerships are desperately needed, but can only be successful if the partners utilize collaborative leadership principles.
Collaboration can be challenging in the non-profit world. This is due primarily to the fact that non-profit organizations compete with each other for funding and community influence. Yet successful collaborative partnerships can yield many community benefits. One important benefit is that collaborative partnerships focus the attention, energy, and strengths of diverse organizations on a persistent community problem.
Another benefit is that collaborative partnerships reduce duplication of effort and services, thereby making the work more cost-effective. In the last few years, the majority of our funders have expected collaborative partnership to be a characteristic of the programs they fund. Unfortunately, not all collaborative partnerships are successful. W. Roger Miller and Jeffrey P. Miller explore the challenges and traits of successful non-profit collaborative partnerships in their paper "Leadership Styles for Success in Collaborative Work."
My best experience working in a non-profit collaborative partnership has been with the Service Network for Children of Inmates (COI). In fact, everything I learned about collaborative leadership I learned through hands-on experience with COI. Our partnership was formed six years ago and we intentionally chose to employ collaborative leadership principles. Ten diverse organizations form COI. Not only are our organizations diverse in our missions, the executive directors are diverse. We are multi-ethnic, multi-faith, male and female. We bring to the table our organizations' strengths, as well as our own diverse talents and unique personalities. There are five key aspects of collaborative leadership presented by Miller and Miller that we chose as our foundation:
1. Collaborative leaders welcome the points of view and expertise of their partners.
2. Collaborative leaders rally around a concise, shared vision.
3. Collaborative leaders are servant leaders.
4. Collaborative leaders build strong professional and personal relationships with their partners.
5. Collaborative leaders are accountable to their partners for program outcomes.
Collaborative partnerships are hard work to build, but yield benefits to the communities they serve as well as strong relationships between community leaders. What aspects of collaborative leadership have you found to be most effective in building collaborative partnerships?
(photo credit: Linda P. Freeman. Collaboration. May 3, 2013. Flamingo Gardens, Davie, Florida.)