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CIL Research Awards - A reflection on the work of Wendy Smith and Marya Besharov

"Integrative Leadership Across Sectors: A Case of Managing Social and Financial Agendas Simultaneously"

By Liz Stone

As part of its goal to advance the study and demonstration of Integrative Leadership, the CIL awarded nine Research Awards in the Spring of 2009. These grants support scholars who explore several core questions about integrative thinking, behavior, leadership, and practice.

The annual CIL Research Awards honor scholars who are expected to fuel and broaden integrative thinking and practice across boundaries in their chosen field. The awards help to fund integrative leadership research, focusing especially on important societal problems, with significant implications for both scholars and practitioners.

The Executive Summary of Smith and Besharov's research can be found on the CIL website or by clicking here.

Social Entrepreneurship--also referred to as "Social Businesses" by Muhammed Yunus, or as "Patient Capitalism" by Jacqueline Novogratz--is an increasingly prominent idea and is being adopted by or integrated into the work of many individuals and organizations. It is, at its core, integrative. Wendy Smith and Marya Besharov, 2009 CIL Research Award recipients, refer to these organizations as hybrid organizations that are defined by their dual identities: organizations that are both profit and growth seeking businesses, as well as mission-driven and seeking to have a positive social impact.

Smith and Besharov use a global social enterprise, Digital Divide Data (DDD), as the focus of their study. According to Smith and Besharov, "DDD seeks to break the cycle of poverty in Southeast Asia by hiring disadvantaged Cambodians and Laotians into a business that provides IT outsourcing services to clients in the United States and abroad." Because it is a hybrid organization, the leadership at DDD faces the challenge of integrating across both their social and financial identities.

Based on longitudinal data gathered from interviews, observations and archival data, Smith and Besharov found that in time, the leaders at DDD learned to accept the tensions between the organization's social and financial identities and developed strategies for pursuing the organization's dual objectives. The authors reference Lewis (2000) and paradox theory, stating that the leaders at DDD came to see the social and financial elements of the organization's identity as paradoxical--simultaneously in tension and in harmony. This is indeed integrative leadership in action.

As noted by the authors, flexibility and identity adaptability were characteristics that were central to the DDD's integrative approach. Additionally, DDD leaders accepted that they would not be able to resolve all of the underlying tensions that developed from the organization's multiple identities. Rather, they were willing and able to accept and engage the tensions.

As this research shows, Integrative Leadership is not a concept, skill or practice that follows a specific formula. It is a very dynamic skill that requires one to not only be flexible and adaptable, but to accept and be able to hold opposing ideas in tension. Roger Martin's The Opposable Mind looks at leadership in a similar light, focusing on thinking skills rather than action skills of leaders. Martin may not use the term "Integrative Leadership", but he looks at a very similar idea when he highlights leaders who have:

"the predisposition and the capacity to hold two (or more) diametrically opposing ideas in their heads...and then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,...produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea" (Martin 6).


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