What capacities do leaders themselves need to improve results for children and families? The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently published a report on lessons learned from its twenty years of work on leadership development, “helping people develop the skills, the behaviors and the relationships they need to lead organizations and public systems toward lasting improvements in child and family well-being.”
Leading for Results: Developing Talent to Drive Change identifies five core competencies of results-based leadership:
- Be results based and data driven, establishing clear goals and using data to assess progress and change course as needed.
- Use the self as an instrument of change to move a result, based on the belief that individual leaders are capable of leading from whatever position they hold.
- Bring attention to and act on disparities, recognizing that race, class and culture impact outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable children.
- Master the skills of “adaptive leadership,” which makes leaders aware of the impact of values, habits, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors associated with taking action to improve results.
- Collaborate with others, understanding that the capacity to build consensus and make group decisions enables leaders to align their actions and move work forward to achieve results.
The final competency, which focuses on collaboration, is core to the Casey leadership development philosophy. While the individual is key in driving change, the ability to achieve results requires “bringing diverse groups together that can work across race, class and ethnicity to create equitable opportunities and improved outcomes for children and families.”
The report highlights the State of Maryland’s efforts to bring together nonprofit and public agency leaders working to improve children’s school readiness. Through the inaugural Leadership in Action program in 2001, the foundation convened 40 mid- to-high level leaders to engage in a learning process about what it would take to create a state where all children are ready for school.
At the end of the ten months, the collaborative had developed a road map for collective action that was later adopted by the state legislature and served as a beacon to keep the diverse group of partners focused on achieving results. These initial efforts informed the creation of the Maryland Early Childhood Advisory Council. Now with a Race to the Top Early Learning grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the state is developing 24 councils who are working at the local level to improve school readiness.
Much of the foundation’s leadership philosophy can be summed up by seeking “high alignment, high action.” According to this goal, an effective leader is only capable of implementing the shared strategies necessary to achieve results when he or she is also working to strengthen relationships. In other words, leadership development is most durable when it occurs within the context of collaborative decision-making.
For more information on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of collaborative leaders, see this extract from the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Handbook for Using Community Decision-Making to Improve the Lives of Children, Youth and Families.