The Paths to Leadership in Community Change
By The Annie E. Casey Foundation
A central goal of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Rebuilding Communities Initiative, a comprehensive community development partnership of the 1990s, was to put in place a sustainable leadership team capable of moving forward with a common vision.
Developing strong leadership became a high priority because it would pave the way for the construction of a united coalition of community advocates. Achieving this collaborative leadership style would require strategies that differed from the entrepreneurial and confrontational styles of community organizing that had been successful in the past.
Those involved in the initiative found a new leadership theory, the situational leadership approach, to be applicable to neighborhood transformation: “Situational leadership theory defines leadership as the capacity to assess a social or political situation and to select a leadership style that is most appropriate.
In situational leadership, no one style is better than another; the style used is determined by the situation. Thus, developing strong situational leaders involves improving leaders’ abilities to diagnose situations that come their way and select the appropriate response. Situational leadership assumes that everyone prefers certain leadership styles, but that everyone can learn to use other styles effectively, as well. Situational leadership defines a style as the approach leaders choose to use within a group, both as their stance toward other participants and in their way of resolving conflicts.”
In addition to offering new theories and strategies for community leaders, the Annie E. Casey Foundation outlines five key lessons for funders trying to implement a comprehensive or collaborative approach to community building:
- Be aware that the neighborhood transformation process is organic, complex, unpredictable and time-consuming.
- Provide supports incrementally over a long period of time, and adjust expectation to the seasonal nature of growth.
- Modify funding techniques, allocate more staff time to supporting the collaborative, orient trustees and other staff to the special nature of collaboratives.
- Play an active role in selecting strategies and setting goals, and be aware that these may change over time.
- Do not panic at the first sign of public opposition.
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