Young: Collaborative leadership presents a catalyst for change

Community collaboration is a process of shared decision-making—all parties with a stake in a problem or issue constructively explore the differences in opinion and perspective to develop a joint strategy for action.

Community collaboration is a process of shared decision-making—all parties with a stake in a problem or issue constructively explore the differences in opinion and perspective to develop a joint strategy for action.

The ethic of collaboration, I have discovered over the years, is premised on a belief that politics need not be a zero-sum game, where one party wins and one loses, or where both sides settle for compromise.

Because, I firmly believe, if the right people are brought together in a spirit of joint leadership and constructive manner and have the appropriate information, they can not only create authentic visions and strategies for addressing their mutual concerns, but also overcome their limited perspectives of what is possible.

This fall will be the fifth year of residency here for my wife and I since moving from Saskatchewan to our new adopted home, West Kelowna. We made six consecutive trips to the Okanagan and actually moved here on the seventh.

During the first few journeys, given my interest and intent on contributing my entrepreneurial passion to the Okanagan region, I undertook to discover the myriad of organizations that comprised our landscape floor.

Guess what? The world is really not that different in many ways from one geographic corner to the next when one attempts to observe solution-bearing activity.

This week, I would like to examine with you what collaborative leadership might mean to all of us who have so much to offer each other as we strive to move our valley and its many communities forward in a common socio-economic gain.

My own focus is the realm of entrepreneurial leadership through our entrepreneurs society and its activities, this column and what is yet to come in this channel of community encouragement.

I still find myself bewildered by the appearance of beauty, affluence and multi-culturalism combined with a plague of divisiveness that pervades our geographical corners regardless of the topic, issue or perceived problem.

Collaboration, in its simplest root, means “to work together.” The most robust definition I have discovered in my research says collaboration is “a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem or issue can constructively explore any differences and search for solutions that go far beyond their own limited version of what is possible.”

I talk about this now because I am so desirous of our organizations, and people actually, reaching out our hands, forgetting any past misunderstandings, confusions and meanderings, and reminding ourselves that there is such a creature entitled “the greater good.”

Case in point: The Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society’s structure and mission.

Started but a few short years ago with like-minded people who wished to offer a platform for the self-employed and those contemplating such station at some point in their lives, the society wants to contribute to the establishment of entrepreneurial leaders in the valley from all levels of industry and business.

It was recognized early on that we were all volunteers who were part of a provincially-registered non-profit society and many in various stages of personal entrepreneurial development.

Well, if there was ever a need for collaborative leadership, our society board, from its inception, required that spirit.

It has taken some pain and, yes, some suffering to pull together, a team of entrepreneurs who believe in themselves and in the mission of the society,  how that working together as a singular unit is far greater than “the (individual) parts.”

Let’s recall that collaborative leadership may be appropriate and relevant to us under a variety of circumstances, from resolving a neighbourhood or environmental dispute, to revitalizing an economically depressed area, settling conflict between communities, a joint venture among business investors,  promoting greater civic participation (really like this one and boy, is it needed) and involvement in the well-being of a community—our community field of dreams to be precise.

Banding together as leaders to work for common goals is not new.

The literature is full of examples of how regions embrace forms of building blocks —cooperative ventures, community interest groups, neighbourhood task forces and civic coalitions.

It has been asserted that: “If you’re doing advocacy, it’s more confrontational, more strident. If you’re doing development, it’s more collaborative.”

I have discovered  that there are a growing number of community-based organizations across this great nation of ours today focused more on building a public agenda than advancing a specific singular cause, that are based on inclusiveness rather than representation, that emphasize unified citizen empowerment rather than the manipulation of existing power structures, that are focused on building relationships rather than “winning” a perceived battle even if losing the war is inevitable.

Come on now folks, most observers of collaborative leadership agree that it must be democratic and inclusive, that is it must be free of hierarchies of any kind and must include all parties that see a stake in the outcome.

As one of our notable West Kelowna leaders points out, “Without community empowerment and broad participation in agenda setting, the decision-making process of discussion, debate and compromise is relatively meaningless…”

Collaborative leadership means building collaborative communities by fostering our social capital, which we have in abundance.

So let’s “get ‘er done!



Joel Young is an entrepreneurial leadership coach, consultant and educator and founder of the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society.



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