Monthly Archives: March 2015

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



The never ending debate?

disagreeEver since we could argue it seems as if people have been debating the merits of working for the common good or working for individual success and survival. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, wrote in 1651 that we needed government to enforce behaviors that support the common good. The economist Adam Smith argued in 1776 that we must establish a free economic market to ensure that the common good wins. Otherwise the power of individual success will win.

The Selfish GeneI first got involved in this debate as a behavioral biology student in 1976 when Richard Dawkins published one of my favorite books, The Selfish Gene. At the time it was described as “the most thrilling stretches of explanatory writing ever penned. It’s breathtaking. Dawkins continued the scientific debate that is occurring today: is it better to act for the common good or is it better to act for the good of the individual?

While this debate has fueled many wonderful conversations and arguments on college campuses, during long car trips, or at the local bar it highlights a dilemma that all leaders face. Do I focus on the success of my team and our services or do I focus on the success of the larger organization, even if it hurts my team or my success?

What if there isn’t a “right” answer and instead it is actually a polarity that you can leverage? In her 2014 post, Leveraging polarities,  Anita introduced the concept of polarity thinking as a tool for leaders to use when facing these types of ongoing dilemmas. A recent article from the Polarity Partnership Group highlights the need to recognize the benefits of supporting the common good AND supporting your team while also acknowledging and acting on the downside of the common good AND the downside of team-focused success.

Over the next month we will be sharing tips and tools you can use to reap the benefits of focusing on the common good in your organization. Yet, in today’s complex environment we must also follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice and “hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It isn’t a debate between the common good and the good of your team, it is a polarity of the common good and the good of your team.

Todd Thorsgaard

Focusing on the common good

common good“No decisions should ever be made without asking the question, is this for the common good?” – Michael Moore

As leaders, we constantly face competing priorities, projects, and perhaps most difficult to manage, competing interests. This fact was reconfirmed last fall when we surveyed higher education leaders in MnSCU to identify their most pressing leadership challenges. In that survey, leaders mentioned the need to:

  • Balance the good of the whole vs. individual good or good for my unit
  • Develop system solutions vs. individual institution solutions
  • Incent and reward collaborative work and behavior

This month we’ll be exploring these topics and more as we address some of the leadership challenges inherent in focusing on the common good. What challenges have you encountered while balancing the common good with competing interests? What has helped you to focus on the common good?

Anita Rios