WEadership: Workforce Leaders Remaking Policy and Redefining What it Means to Lead

As of 2008, the war for good jobs has trumped all other leadership activities […] The lack of good jobs will become the root cause of almost all world problems that America and other countries will face. - Jim Clifton

Jobs and economic security. These are the most important issues on the minds of Americans across generations, geography, and political parties.

Most communities face some combination of the following:

  • Too few jobs (especially those offering health insurance and family-sustaining wages)
  • Skills gaps among applicants competing for good jobs that do exist and those in emerging industries
  • Young workers having difficulty making the leap from job to career (or from school to job)
  • Older experienced workers who cannot afford to retire or simply want to remain engaged but in different roles than they play today
  • Labor markets that lack transparency (e.g., applicants submit hundreds of resumes into "black holes")
  • Persistent poverty, especially among communities of color, which limits access to job opportunities and to the social networks that help people advance
  • Overcrowded and underfunded public schools and institutions of higher education struggle to cultivate the talents of all of their students
  • Ongoing economic shocks—not just unanticipated layoffs, but also natural and weather-related disasters of which there have been 83 in 2011 (a record high in any calendar year)

These challenges are not for the faint of heart, and cannot be solved by a single leader, organization, or sector. But they are among the defining challenges of our day. And courageous leaders in public, private, non-profit, and civic sectors all over the country are quietly stepping forward to tackle them—increasingly, in partnership with one another.

WEadership: The Future of Workforce Leadership

Non-traditional Leadership

During a one-year study of the field of public policy known as workforce, we found many examples of leaders—including non-traditional leaders—creating new solutions in unexpected ways.

Adopting more collaborative, open-minded, and entrepreneurial approaches than in years past, these leaders prioritize the goal—community well being and prosperity—above the means, be it program, funding, agency precedent, political jurisdiction, or traditional role. We call this new approach WEadership in a nod to its collaborative nature. It is characterized by six practices:

  1. Adopting a Wide-Angle Point of View
  2. Building Diverse Networks
  3. Embracing Openness
  4. Encouraging Experimentation
  5. Adding Unique Value
  6. Cultivating Next Generation Leaders

These practices do not comprise a recipe or a checklist. Rather, they reflect our effort to synthesize finding from our literature review and discussions with over 500 workforce leaders in person, via phone and using social media.  Moreover, these are not independent practices: the six complement one another and point toward a future in which leadership is a collaborative endeavor.

We will cover these practices in a series of posts over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, we'd welcome your thoughts. What do you think about the future of the workfore? Do these ideas align with your thoughts?


Next Week: WEadership Practice #1: Adopt a Wide-Angle Point of View

Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, of Social Policy Research Associates, authored the WEadership Guide (August 2011), the result of a one-year US Department of Labor study of leadership in the field of public policy concerned with work and learning. They were thrilled at the opportunity to link their professional pursuits (public policy) with their personal commitments to positive social change and innovation, and look to increase, accelerate, and intensify these connections within the field of workforce in the coming months. The entire project is documented at EnhacingWorkforceLeadership.org. Follow it at @WFLeadership.

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