Cross-sector leadership can only lead to cross-sector collaboration if it is undertaken with purposeful intent. Many cross-sector leadership activities focus on looking for ways to transfer learnings from one sector into formats or methods appropriate for another sector. This is fine and valuable unto itself, but I would argue that it doesn’t constitute actual collaboration. Rather, to achieve true collaboration leaders need to:
- Identify the strengths and needs of each sector group,
- Determine if there are ways in which those needs could be more efficiently met, and if so,
- Coordinate the activities of those they lead to achieve the collaborative goal.
To be effective, coordinating the activities in the third step requires:
- Sharing the vision with and appropriately motivating all parties,
- Establishing sub-goals with mechanisms for accountability, and
- Providing whatever support or space is needed to achieve the desired ends.
For example, I serve as a religious community coordinator, as well as the manager of a free tax-preparation program for low-income clients. In some places where I work, there’s an overlap between the population served by my religious community activities and those who are eligible for free tax preparation. In this specific case, cross-sector collaboration needs a leader who can think creatively about how to blend the two initiatives, such as using religious community networks to reach prospective tax-prep clients.
Consider a relationship between a business and a nonprofit organization, where the nonprofit serves as a job placement program which directly feeds workers to the for-profit business, providing additional wraparound support services for the new employees, while also securing for-profit rate wages. It could be a fantastic opportunity for both organizations, but only if the collaboration is approached carefully.
To get to the point of collaboration, a leader—regardless if he or she is in the nonprofit, government or business sector—must purposefully encourage those working with him or her to begin to foster deeper collaborations with those in the other sector. At a minimum, it would require securing the support and buy-in from subordinates, so that they can see the value in the partnership. Then, facilitating the collaboration requires having the time and support to see it through, not just adding it as another task to the to-do list. The activity itself could be done as a pilot project of limited duration and commitment (often a good starting point unto itself), or even entail full programmatic partnership.
Very little can be achieved without purposeful intent. From the very beginning, certain plans and goals need to be outlined and actions then undertaken to realize that vision. Can cross-sector leadership translate into cross-sector collaboration?
Only if we are purposeful about wanting it and strategic in realizing it.