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Student Reflections on Integrative Leadership

By Renee Anderson

Students from the Spring 2010 "Integrative Leadership: From Theory to Practice" course, taught by Professors Jay Kiedrowski and Paul Vaaler, will post their reflections on integrative leadership throughout the course of the semester on the Time to Lead blog.

Points others have made in the complexities and necessities of Integrative Leadership are insightful and of which I have to echo. Like others, when I tell people my academic pursuits (dual degrees in Public Policy and Social Work), I get affirmative responses in recognizing the significance of disciplines in order to accomplish broader, larger, and complex issues. So, why is it that we create centers of research, spend years of advocacy, or expend endless hours of consultation on to issues which steer us to inconclusive answers, in order to determine the need for collaboration?

We have been exposed to cases and situations over the span of this course that have exhibited the need to work across sectors for greater success on social, sector, or organizational issues. An example that comes to mind is tied to this idea that the revelation in the need for integrative leadership is one that must arise over time (continuously) and across issues for its value to be seen. Over the course of the semester I have been working on a capstone project focused on governmental and nonprofit collaborations. More specifically, Hennepin County's Human Service and Public Health Department (HSPHD) is attempting to regionalize services across the county to more effectively serve clients and meet broader needs they may have. Part of this is working with services and resources in the community more closely in six geographic areas of the county. We have been involved in gaining the perspectives and experiences of community human service providers and HSPHD staff in order to understand how the county can work in greater partnership and service delivery with community providers. What we found was quite earth shaking; collaborations are fostered by mutual exchange, trust, respect, and the acknowledged value in one another's expertise. Ok, so these characteristics may not be mind blowing or completely surprising but it has been fascinating to hear how certain factors play extremely pivotal roles in creating successful cross-sector work. Bryson, Crosby, and Stone (2006) discuss overarching "best practices" or suggestions to cross-sector collaboration of which are thorough in their support yet lack tangible application. Carrying out our research this semester I understand how these types of "how to" lists can be easy to create though when it comes to application it is much harder to articulate. Context matters. What we've learned as well is players matter; the motivation behind organizational initiatives can make or break its reputation and success.

Another area that is worth discussing is the differences between sectors which are often bypassed in the need to push forward on a project. We are beginning to see many similarities across sectors, nonprofits are taking up business practices, and private companies are carrying out social causes. However the fact is sectors are very different. While many can appear or espouse to be cross-breeds between private and nonprofit goals or public and nonprofit services, there are things that differ between varied types of organizations which nuance their mission or bottom-line. If these principles and intentions are not addressed in collaborating or working across sectors, conflict and misunderstanding will likely persist. In looking primarily across public and nonprofit areas, there are vastly different ways of functioning which thus shape people's perceptions and experiences when interacting in each. When thinking about ways they can work together, issues of organizational structure, culture, and past experiences all play a role in the alignment and success of any given initiative. This is an area that could be elaborated on much more. What I will leave this thought with are the age-old themes of respect, mutual benefit, time investment, and communication that any successful cross-sector partnership needs for true success. While not necessarily earth shaking, they can be encouraging as we go forward in our multiple fields and sectors to work towards social betterment. Communication is key.

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