By Deborah Meehan, Leadership Learning Community
What would it take to answer this question with any certainty? At the Leadership Learning Community, we recently invited our members to participate in a survey that guided them through a process of creating a working hypothesis. A hypothesis will make more explicit the assumptions that a leadership programs holds about how they are planning to accomplish the goals of their leadership program: who is reached, with what supports, and for what purpose, e.g. if we do X (leadership strategies), then Y (program result) will occur. You could say that through this exploration we are testing our own hypothesis: If leadership programs develop, test, refine and share their hypothesis about how they achieve different results then leadership development practitioners will be able to make better decisions about which approaches will help them get the results they are hoping for. We were encouraged by the number of people who quickly responded to this request. What did we learn?
Over 50 people responded to the survey. We were most interested in large scale results so we began by sorting the hypotheses into several buckets: first, those that proposed achieving community, field, or system level results using a relational approach. (By relational approach we are talking about leadership strategies that are focused on working with groups, e.g. like connecting community members and health providers in a leadership effort in a specific city, or using a leadership network strategy to support learning and collaboration or it could be a leadership program that is bringing together people across specific boundaries.) The second bucket was grouped hypotheses from programs that had taken an individual leadership approach of providing skills development, resources or reflective time as a way of achieving large scale change. In the surveys, community, field, and systems level results were commonly expressed as: improved health in a particular population (community or state), improved conditions or quality of life in communities, a vibrant civil society, or increased equity. There is almost no mention of results that are specific, concrete and measurable for a group of people or a community. This is worthy of a conversation in itself but for the sake of this article we wanted to focus on the hypotheses themselves.
Relational Leadership Hypothesis
We identified 18 programs that created a relational leadership hypothesis. When combined, the hypotheses can be stated as follows:
If diverse groups are brought together in a collective leadership process (one that fosters relationships, learning, collaboration, networking, boundary crossing or some combination of these) then they will be better able to achieve community, field, or systems level results.
There were several important themes that emerged from these hypotheses about what it takes to support large scale change through leadership work:
In teasing apart these themes we find three common elements:
In our next article we will share some of the survey responses about how leadership programs that support individuals are contributing to large scale change. This work is being supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of an exploration of whether leadership programs can benefit from an Evidence Based Practice approach, which has been widely used in the field of health. Next month, evaluators, funders and researchers that are part of the Leadership Learning Community will meet to dive into this question. Stay tuned for more insights, controversies and possible next steps.
by Jim Taggart
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