Vulnerability - The Key to Successful Collective Impact
Who Knew Appearing Weak Could Produce So Much Strength?
Have I mentioned lately how much I love what I do? Not only is it a privilege and honor to partner with amazing people doing remarkable things, but I also love how our work can call us to higher versions of ourselves and the organizations we serve.
Lately, I've been thinking about this a lot because I'm conducting several strategic planning projects with organizations who are using the collective impact model to make real, lasting, systemic change in their communities. Collective impact is hard work and it's heart work.
Collective impact requires sacrificing personal or organizational agendas, trusting wholeheartedly and communicating transparently in order to build connections. It is all about the risk we’re willing to take on our partners in the sector so that we can come together to solve serious problems. Collective impact is about making ourselves or our organizations more vulnerable so that we can join with others who share our vision. Brene Brown's research on vulnerability has a lot to say about this stuff. While most of her research focuses on the individual, I think her findings are applicable to organizational collaborations, too.
Vulnerability is critical to successful collective impact endeavors.
As more and more organizations desire collaborations with one another it’s important to keep in mind that in order for there to be true collaborations, organizations and the people running them need to be vulnerable with one another.
That means fessing up if you’re financially struggling and hoping that a grant will provide sufficient funds to not only grow a program, but also help solve some cash flow problems. That means pulling back the curtain and letting others see that you have some flaws or insufficiencies in how you measure outcomes. That means admitting when you’re at the end of your tether, either in terms of expertise or bandwidth, and unable to deal with the latest round of significant challenges facing your organization.
This can be extremely can be extremely challenging and uncomfortable! - Especially if you've been burned in the past. We've all had experiences where our trust has been abused. Or, when, someone or something has taken advantage of us in our moments of vulnerability.
Yet, are previous bad experiences a good enough reason to stop trying? Happily, the organizations with which I'm working have emphatically said, "NO!" And things are changing for the better in their communities because of it.
The same can be true for you. I bet if you're willing to risk it, more often than not, your peers will give you the empathy, guidance and support you need to take the next step. They'll join your in your efforts to make a difference.
Even though it’s hard work, doesn't your heart sing a little when you think of how closer connections and deeper relationships – resulting from our willingness to be vulnerable with one another – will lead to the transformation we seek? After all, that’s what true collaboration, true collective impact is all about.
PS – I recommend the book 'The Impossible Will Take A Little While' if you’re looking for some inspiration and motivation. It’s chock full of poetry, stories and essays about good people, working together and doing brave things to change the world even when times get tough. Or, if you want some truly profound examples of people setting aside past hurts to transform their communities, 'Solving Tough Problems' tells the story of the peace and reconciliation work of Adam Kahane and his team in places like South Africa, during the dismantling of apartheid and Columbia during the civil war.