At a broad level, the Leadership Team’s responsibilities are not complex. The team identifies, establishes, and maintains the array of leadership connections best serving the agency’s interests and those of its stakeholders. Embedded here is a critical concept. Each connection is two-way and has to be mutually beneficial. Part of what sustains the connection is the What’s in it for me? factor. The connection benefits the agency but also benefits the stakeholder. Of course, the agency’s interests are furthered. It is equally important each connection also furthers the interests of the stakeholder.
A good starting point for developing the Leadership Perspective is to think about what connections should be established for the specific agency. Some caution is important here. It is very easy to get this step so complicated no one actually takes it in a thoughtful and systematic way. My experience tells me, if this happens, the step is simply skipped. The result then is a more or less haphazard approach to leadership, with the agency never quite achieving the Leadership Perspective. With this caution in mind, consider how to identify the connections best serving the agency’s interests.
Start with connections within the local Helping Triangle and specifically with 0-A connections – with potential clients. Before identifying people, two questions have to be asked and answered. What is the agency’s interest in establishing connections with these stakeholders? We have to know why we want to make the connections before investing the time and resources required to establish and maintain them. A somewhat subtle point is important here. Our focus is on outcomes and not on input. The value of the connections is in the future, not today. For example, the agency is interested in providing more responsive, more appropriate services as time goes on. The connections are expected to support this outcome. The agency’s interest is in getting better and better at getting better and better; and solid connections with potential clients help achieve this end.
With a clear sense of why the agency wants to establish the connections in mind, there is a second question to ask and answer. What is each stakeholders interest in establishing a connection with the agency? More specifically, what’s in it for a potential client? Focus is again on output, not input. How will the potential client be better off tomorrow as a result of investing time and energy in the connection today? Keep in mind this is a Leadership Connection and not the same as receiving or providing agency services and supports. – It is important to refrain from pursuing the connection until we have seriously thought about the question and have an answer. For example, a payment or other reward might be appropriate in some situations, while not in others. Others might value helping people they know by contributing to increased availability of better services. Some may appreciate the opportunity to call attention to something they do not like about the agency or its services. Still others may be eager to share their ideas about what they think would really be helpful to people who are experiencing the types of issues and challenges for which the agency exists. Each person has his (or her) perspective and interests. This step requires learning what those perspectives and interests are and assuring the connection conforms with and supports those perspectives and interests.
As we focus on identifying potential clients with whom leadership connections may be productive, we are interested in potential clients. Current and past clients and others who have already started the process of becoming clients are not in the focal population. Next, we only need to identify a couple of people with whom to connect. As time goes on, we have connections with more potential clients, but two or three are enough for now. The Leadership Team does not need a directory or chart to remember who the potential clients are, since there are only a couple of people. The caution here is to exclude anyone who is not fairly typical of potential clients in most obvious respects. Starting with two or three people who are much like other potential clients is sufficient. They likely already know or are known by someone on the Leadership Team. If so, have the person who already knows the potential clients pursue connections with them, once the Team member is clear about what’s in it for the agency and for the people with whom the connections will be made.
Shift focus now to 0-1 connections – with Initiators. These connections, like all leadership connections, develop mutual benefit for the agency and for the Initiators. As with Potential Clients, two or three Initiators are enough to start. Within the Initiator group, some people are more active, more influential, and more committed to the particular cause of interest to the agency than others. It is not necessary to restrict attention to the most active, influential, and committed people. Even so, most effort should be directed to people who are at least moderately active, influential, and committed. Members of the Leadership Team likely already know two or three Initiators who fit the profile. If so, they should be encouraged to pursue connections with them. If not, the team can discuss who is the most appropriate team member to develop leadership connections with the two or three Initiators who have been identified.
Let’s expand some on who belongs in the Initiator group. Keep in mind these people are expected to approach and work with the Authorizers, both seeking and receiving the needed authorization and auspices to establish the desired human services agency. The Initiator group includes both active participants and potential members. The leadership challenge is to first identify those people who are actively pursuing the development of services for the Potential Client group. They are our strongest allies, the people who have been and who will continue to champion the cause. Additionally, identify those people in the community who we can call interested influentials. These are people who may be interested in our cause and who are known to the Authorizers either directly or by reputation. Further, they are people who can positively influence the Authorizers, if they choose to advocate for our cause. We then develop Leadership connections with these interested influentials, with the goal of peaking their interest in the cause and enlisting them into the Initiator group. Their support and influence then add to the overall influence and effectiveness of the Initiators as they pursue authorization and auspices from the Authorizers. Further, make a real effort to also recruit two or three Potential Clients into the Initiator group. This improves the perspective of the Initiator group as well as assuring the Authorizers the needs and interests of Potential Clients are clearly incorporated into any proposals the Initiators may make.
Now shift attention to identifying people who are appropriate for developing 0-B connections – with Authorizers. If possible, these connections should be made with people who directly participate in the authorizing decisions. If they do not individually make the decisions, they should be members of a Board or other group who vote on the decisions. In larger organizations and authorizing entities, access to those people may be both limited and difficult. If this is the case, develop connections with people who directly interact with and can potentially influence the decision makers. Here too, a couple of people are a good number with whom to start pursuing connections.
With these connections, What’s in it for them? is especially difficult. It is important the connections do not give the appearance of bias or favoritism and enable the Authorizers to remain objective. This is even more important than with Initiators. The Authorizers and their aides and assistants must remain objective and unbiased. In the short term, favored treatment may benefit the agency. In the long run, it can do much more harm than good. The Authorizers want to feel appreciated and valued as people and believe their objectivity and fairness are understood and respected. We see what’s in it for them. They are appreciated and valued as people and understood and respected as decision makers.
The connections with Authorizers become particularly complex when the agencys funding is dependent on small or multiple donations or contributions from numerous individuals or organizations. It is important to keep the perspective each contributor is an individual Authorizer. The agencys authorization is, at least in part, a product of the cumulative authorizations of the individual donors. The Initiators and members of the Leadership Team must not lose this perspective as they connect with and solicit support from what is frequently a very diverse group. Agency fund raising is, for many agencies, a major focus and requires continuous attention and work with Initiators who may themselves be contributors, i.e., the Initiators may also be Authorizers.
Shift focus now to 0-2 connections – with Implementers. With these connections, we are sensitive to the already existing Management interaction between the agency and the Implementers. As is true with the Authorizers and, to a lesser extent, with the Initiators, leadership connections are not the only interactions between the agency and its stakeholders. For example, a clinical or case-related connection with another agency or institution is not the same as a leadership connection. Leadership connections are essential whether or not there are other contacts and interactions.
Identifying appropriate people with whom to establish 0-2 connections is challenging since there are frequently multiple Implementer groups often having little to no contact with each other. Although this is likely also true for the Initiators and Authorizers, it is especially likely with Implementer groups. Identifying one or two people within each Implementer group is usually sufficient as a starting point. Over time, additional leadership connections develop, but one or two is enough as an initial leadership goal. These connections might include people with government departments associated with the agency, affiliated groups, oversight entities, accrediting organizations, outside consultants, university faculty helping the agency with program or services development, and others who assist the agency to carry out its responsibilities. Just be sure not to overlook any group essential for effective implementation and continuing agency success.
The 0-C leadership connection – with the agency – is also frequently neglected. There is a strong tendency for the Leadership Team to assume its members are representative of agency staff or at least that they understand staff interests and do not need to do anything special to learn about those interests. They also assume staff know about agency interests and support those interests. These assumptions are usually fairly valid but occasionally are not. This becomes particularly obvious when some significant change is required in agency focus or procedures or when there is an event or circumstance seriously jeopardizing agency operations. It suddenly becomes clear there are missing connections needed to enable everyone to work together to get past the bad time or resolve the impending crisis.
Even if there is no impending crisis and operations are within acceptable limits, a lack of 0-C leadership connections is still problematic. It limits the opportunity for the Leadership Team and other staff to better understand and support each other’s interests and to more accurately anticipate issues that may develop. It also limits access and interaction between staff and other people within the Helping Triangle and lessens the opportunity for staff to understand and support the interests of agency stakeholders. An additional effect is the agency staff becomes more isolated from people in the Helping Triangle and the wider community. Depending on the size of the agency, adequate attention to these 0-C connections may require connections with several staff members outside the Leadership Team. Often, an advisory group or employee union is the best way to arrange these connections, understanding an effective employee union can and often does serve multiple functions beyond issues related to salary, benefits, and working conditions.
0-3 leadership connections – with Providers – are a special instance of 0-C connections discussed above. Identifying Providers with whom to connect is an area often not handled well. First, Supervisors and Managers are generally not Providers. Even if they do provide direct client services, they are usually not representative of people whose primary responsibility is to directly provide services to clients. Also, the Providers who have been with the agency the longest are usually not representative. The Leadership Team can start by limiting focus to people primarily providing agency services for clients. Next, exclude those Providers who have been with the agency the longest and those who have recently joined the staff. The remaining group includes those people with whom 0-3 leadership connections can productively be made. From this group, pick one or two Providers from each of the agency’s program or service areas and then pursue leadership connections with them.
It is worth noting in passing services Providers tend to have a very internal, micro orientation and a significant reluctance to focus beyond the clients with whom they work. This is especially unfortunate since they are among the people who best understand agency services, including both service barriers and opportunities. To capitulate to this reluctance is a mistake and not in the interest of agency excellence. The people who best understand agency service issues and needs must be enlisted into the Leadership process. For the agency to allow its Providers to stay on the Leadership sidelines is shortsighted and for those Providers to refrain from Leadership participation is professionally irresponsible.
If the Leadership Team follows the steps discussed above, it identifies about thirty or so people within the local Helping Triangle with whom leadership connections should be pursued. If the number is much less than this, the identification process continues, starting over with 0-A connections and proceeding along the Helping Triangle, identifying appropriate people at each point. If the number is much over that, follow the same process, reducing how many connections are to be pursued at each point. Keep the total number of people with whom leadership connections are to be pursued at a level letting the Leadership Team know with whom they are connecting without needing a complex chart or directory.
As focus shifts beyond the local Helping Triangle, the principles and strategies discussed above apply. Identifying leadership connections beyond the local Helping Triangle includes identifying specific people with whom to connect and answering the key questions presented earlier.
· What is the agency’s interest in establishing a connection with this stakeholder?
· What is the stakeholder’s interest in establishing a connection with the agency?
· If the connection is successful, what will the outcome be?
· If the connection is not successful, what will the outcome be?
· How will the stakeholder be better off tomorrow as a result of investing time and energy in the connection today?
To identify useful external connections, make a list of organizations and entities with which the agency does or should interact. This list should include other human services agencies also providing services to clients and potential clients who are already associated with the local Helping Triangle, other human services organizations in the geographic area the agency serves, groups and organizations focusing on charitable or humanitarian activities, businesses and companies interested in community involvement, religious and educational entities, and any other groups of potential interest.
Work with the list until it includes no more than twenty groups, organizations, or other entities. The final list represents the Leadership Team’s priorities for external leadership connections. For each organization or group, identify one person with whom to pursue a leadership connection. The specific person need not be the head of the group but does need to be someone who has significant influence within the organization or group. The Leadership Team then decides which of its members will be responsible for pursuing the connection. Be sure here to note these external connections are external to the local Helping Triangle and not simply outside of the agency at point “C” on the local Helping Triangle.