Leading for the common good

marilyn carlson nelson“In the twenty-first century a new vision of leadership is needed more than ever. Leaders must integrate knowledge and talent from individuals in the private, not-for-profit, and government sectors to advance the common good.”     — Marilyn Carlson Nelson

One of my highlights in grad school was the chance to take a course through the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrative Leadership (CIL).  I learned a lot about cross-sector collaboration and what they call “grand challenges” – the issues that are too complex for a single discipline, organization, or sector to solve on its own.

According to the CIL, focusing on the common good means leading in ways that address grand challenges to create public value, not only through efficiency and effectiveness but also with justice and fairness. Some of their core beliefs about this type of leadership include:

  1. Leadership is necessary for addressing grand challenges and promoting the common good
  2. Leadership is often most needed in the intersections of conflicting world views, beliefs, and knowledge
  3. Leadership is most powerful when it is empowering others to make positive change
  4. Collaborative leadership is a skill that can be learned, and building leadership capacity broadly can be more effective than focusing only on those with positional power
  5. Everyone has a role and responsibility to engage in acts of leadership that address grand challenges and promote the common good

As leaders within MnSCU, we all need the ability to work across disciplines, sectors, and geographical boundaries to solve our own grand challenges. In the three years that I’ve been here I’ve learned about many intersections of conflicting viewpoints, beliefs, and areas of expertise. I’ve also seen examples of effective leadership that crosses those boundaries for the benefit of everyone.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Companies, was instrumental in creating the CIL. She believed that learning to collaborate in more effective ways is fundamental to leading for the common good.  “The cross-pollination of ideas is no less important to solving society’s grand challenges than the major breakthroughs we herald in technology, medicine, or any other discipline.” (Carlson School magazine, fall 2013).

What grand challenges are facing your unit, your institution, and your community? How have you seen leaders work across sectors to address them?

Dee Anne Bonebright




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