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Revealing a Philosophy of Leadership for Collective Impact

Late last year we worked with a senior management team that had come together because each person was recruited to manage yet another new project that had received external funding. Each of these projects could be connected to the vision and mission of the organization and often they served the same communities, albeit different constituencies within those communities. Yet each of the project leads somehow felt quite ‘siloed’ or separate from all the other projects working under the organization’s umbrella. We were requested to design a leadership workshop that focused on how and why they could work together effectively and efficiently for the benefit of the organization and the communities they served.

One activity among many that we were inspired to facilitate asked each team lead to consider their philosophy of leadership and share it with others. In the process we also explored the collective philosophy of the organization itself.

The elements of leadership we used came from a variety of sources including a capacity assessment conducted with team members and our understanding of “Collective Impact 3.0.” (1) Collective Impact is a framework that has inspired our thinking about how collective change happens in communities and societies. It suggests elements of a leadership mindset that enables organizations to contribute to sustainable collective impact. For this group, our modified list of elements included:

Elements of My Leadership Philosophy ….


Project management focused …………………..…..Movement focused

Project focused ………………..…………Community aspirations

Measurement ………………………………Learning



Technical focus………………Participant focus


Each continuum was laid out on the floor with enough space along the continuum for everyone to stand somewhere on the line. We let people know there was no correct answer – we were simply interested in their own philosophy of leadership and why.

For example, on the “Technical focus” to “Participant focused” continuum – participants scattered over the line with people at both ends and every point along the line. Everyone had reasons for their choice which generated much sharing. This discussion was helpful in and of itself because for the first time they began to understand seemingly uncooperative behaviors from their colleagues. It also gave them an exercise of talking about why they choose to act the way they did rather than only reporting their actions which was the accepted organizational culture. The activity led to an enriched conversation about what was important based on the vision and values of the organization and how they applied directly into practice in their projects.

The leaders found themselves clumped near one spot on the line when they stepped on the “Blueprint/ linear” to “Iterative/ responsive” continuum. Here there was much similarity in how they talked about change being the only constant in the communities; that change was inevitable and it was their job to respond according to the situation they found as they worked with community members. This ‘clumping’ together had the effect of creating a team feeling among the group as they explored why they each believed an iterative approach was required. For some it helped build bridges to conversations with their colleagues they had not imagined.

From this activity, and discussion of all seven elements, the intent of the program was realized in the conversations then, and those that followed in central team meetings, to construct the way forward collectively and collaboratively knowing some shifts in mindset might be necessary.

As a leadership team they saw the strength in diversity and now had an accepted precedent for how to engage each other in conversations to explore their individual and collective leadership philosophy. Their strength was in appreciating the diversity, creating a way forward that took the best from multiple leadership elements, and acting in ways that would always have the overall beneficial impact on communities as the priority.

It was a rich discussion and a dynamic activity that got a senior management team assessing and learning about how leadership philosophy could make a difference.

Where do you stand on these elements of leadership?

What groups are you working with that could benefit from such an exploration?

A description of the activity is posted in our tools section:


[1] Cabaj, M. and Weaver, L. (2016) Collective Impact 3.0 An Evolving Framework for Community Change.

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2 commentaires

Debbie Castle
Debbie Castle
10 févr. 2020

hey Darren, we introduced several new activities incorporating cell phones into our sessions leading one participant to say - "this is a great example of responsible use of cell phones".


Darren C Brown
Darren C Brown
09 févr. 2020

Encouraging the physical positioning on concepts rather than simply hinging dialogue based on mental positioning jump starts the shifting of mental models. I am struck that in the photo all but one participant is holding a phone/camera. It is a tool I need to think more about using (other than for documentation) in my own facilitation. Thanks !

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