I have banged on extensively over the years about the importance of forging strong and sustainable relationships as the necessary precursor for effective and impactful partnership working.
Such relationships, in my experience at least, form best when framed by an understanding of respective values and their degree of alignment; an agreement about the core purpose of getting together; and, the most important ‘product’ of all, identification of the outcomes that most need improving.
Within this collaboration-enabling environment, I have been dwelling on some of the vital mechanics of relationship-building. It isn’t enough to understand and agree (assuming both have occurred) that values, purpose and outcomes matter and make a strong partnership. Collaboration also requires leaders to be thoughtful about how relationships are formed, developed and maintained; a bit of behavioural psychology, if you like.
It is said that we make our minds up about each other within minutes of the first encounter. If this is true (and I suspect that it is), then how many of us really think deeply about how we are going to make a good impression and, in the spirit of empathy, do our level best to help others to leave a positive impression on us? Enabling reciprocal empathy isn’t a skill you see in very many person specifications and, yet, without an ability and willingness to make basic, positive human connections, there’s not much point in producing bold visions and grand strategies as you’ll soon be on your own in turning them into reality.
Understanding how to relate, and how to enable others to do so, isn’t a soft skill that’s nice to have. In an operating environment where place and system leadership are the expectation, a leader who can’t make relationships with other leaders isn’t a leader at all. At best, they might not get in the way and be supportive. But, at worse, they may turn out to be a bully and a thug.
Our communities deserve only the very best in those who lead them. They should expect the elected and the appointed (and the contracted) to be natural collaborators: people who understand the enabling value and power of connecting authentically; who see power as something to give away or be devolved to those who would make the very best use of it; and who can help shape and own a vision and mission without feeling the need to control it.
This is the values-based, relational leadership that will lead us from these tough, often directionless times, into a positive and productive new world where public services are reformed by a form of social change that puts collaboration with citizens at its heart.
Mark Rogers, executive director, Collaborate CIC