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Results: The “for what?” of Leadership

What if we are capable of more, but our low expectations or limiting models of leadership hold us back? Over the past couple of years we have used an Investment Framework tool to understand the types of results or changes that leadership programs hope to achieve. We recently asked a group of funders to identify the results they were targeting (e.g. more financially sustainable organizations, an increased level of personal confidence) and place them in the matrix. Most of their answers fall under the following categories: individual and organization levels – the upper left hand corner of the matrix:

This tool was first developed by GEO and later adapted by Claire Reinelt, LLC Director of Research and Evaluation, and Grady McGonagill, McGonagill Associates. You can learn more about how to use this tool here.

The thinking is that working with individuals and organizations will ultimately result in changes in a given community. But, what could happen if we focus more of our work on the right hand side of the matrix?

We have been excited to see more and more leadership theory research that attempts to fill that gap. These newer theories focus on understanding leadership as a collective process that produces results at the systems, community and field levels. Many of these theories propose that collective action needs to focus on results. Here are some of these theories and examples of types of results being targeted by leadership programs that are using them:

  • Theory of Aligned Contributions (Pillsbury 2009): Leaders are more likely to achieve changes at the population level if they involve people from different sectors and take aligned actions to accomplish measurable results. The result needs to be urgent, measurable, and clear. The group must be willing to be publicly accountable for the result.  For example, the Annie E. Casey Leadership in Action Program targeted (and achieved) a population level result – an increase in the number of children entering school prepared to learn in the city of Baltimore, MD.
  • The Collaborative Leadership Theory by David Chrislip and Carl Larson: A diverse group of people can solve pressing problems if the individuals in the group have appropriate information and are brought together in constructive ways. According to this theory, collaboration is defined as a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties who work toward common goals by sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results. The Kansas Health Foundation is using this theory to change civic culture at the community level.
  • The Theory U developed by Otto Scharmer: We need a more collective leadership model to creatively solve problems. This model suggests that we should observe the present with a new openness, sense the future and actively learn by prototyping. Results are based on the ability to adapt prototypes to create breakthrough changes on significant social problems like: sustainable food systems in Brazil or HIV/AIDs in Washington DC.

These examples raise some interesting questions about results:

  • Are we only targeting results that we know we can measure?
  • Do our current methods of measuring results keep us from targeting larger scale results that we do not know how to assess? How might this limit our potential impact?
  • What kinds of evaluation approaches can help us to measure different kinds of changes in communities, systems and fields of practice?

At LLC, we decided to ask each member of the team to write down the two most important results we hope to achieve and place them in the matrix. Thankfully, there was a strong alignment among the results, (whew):

  • System Level Result: To give voice to a more inclusive, networked and collective leadership mindset. To provide concrete tools and research to help leadership practitioners adopt this new mindset.
  • Field/Sector Level Result: To model and promote new ways of learning, connecting, and collaborating to achieve greater impact in the social sector.

In an upcoming article we will discuss LLC’s ideas for evaluating our results. We will also share what we are learning about how others are assessing their success at the community level. Please share your stories with us.