Leadership & Collective Impact: Cultivating Tensions

People who take on leadership roles in Collective Impact get to actively cultivate tensions that most reasonable people prefer to avoid.

Tetchy. Tensions.

Paradox is inherent to Collective Impact work.

You have to love the inevitable tensions (at least some of the time) or Collective Impact probably isn’t for you. Here are five we can all learn to love:

  1. Ambiguity + decisiveness;
  2. What’s measureable + what’s important;
  3. Needs of the community + needs of the systems designed to serve it;
  4. Equity + efficiency; and my favourite:
  5. Whose norms? (Who gets to feel uncomfortable?)

In this post, let’s consider the first two.

Sign up for my upcoming webinar with the National Collaborating Centre for the Determinants of Health to learn more.

Ambiguity + decisiveness

As adults, we rarely choose to spend time in a state of sustained ambiguity.

We like decisiveness. Most of us prefer to have a plan, even if that plan is leading us somewhat astray.

In Collective Impact we get to embrace the ambiguity of not knowing. At least at first.

If we jump to plan-making right away, chances are good that we’ll end up doing a variation of what we’ve always done. And we’ll get a variation of the results we’ve always gotten.

The conflict between ambiguity + decisiveness (or adaptability + ‘planniness’) can be an early opportunity for establishing a culture of respect, curiosity and experimentation in a Collective Impact initiative, if we embrace the tension.

What’s measureable + what’s important

Shared Measurement is at the heart of Collective Impact. It forms the navigation system for the entire enterprise.

Measurement is logical. And those who struggle with ambiguity often gravitate to the logical. They find solace there.

It is really easy (and really common) for measurement to take over and start driving the bus, rather than being the lens that lets us learn and the compass that helps us to stay on track.

To keep measurement in its rightful place, we need to first:

  1. Learn from each other and agree about what is important;
  2. Identify the (sometimes inconspicuous) leverage points that will help us achieve our common goal;

Once we have those elements in place, we have a plan. Measurement flows from that plan.

Humility and learning comes first. Then agreement. Then more learning.

Then measurement.

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