June 2009Leadership for navigating competing interests
By Margaret Seidler, author
How many times have you experienced mounting concerns about an issue in your community then implemented a fix, only to find a new set of problems created down the road? Or how frequently do you find yourself in a difficult situation dealing with strong advocacy groups who cling to positions that are often opposing or contradictory?
Well, you may be trying to solve "unsolvable" problems that are chronic, ongoing challenges not suitable for traditional problem solving. Traditional problem solving supports one "right" answer or a set of independent answers, any of which could do the job. These "unsolvable" problems may be better managed over time for optimal results through a set of seemingly contradictory, yet interdependent actions – actions that are in some way connected and related.
The key is to be able to distinguish between issues most suitable for traditional problem solving and those which are not. Municipal leaders face numerous challenges where they need a way for themselves and those with competing interests to see a more complete or bigger picture before taking action.
These more chronic ongoing challenges or "unsolvable problems" require a different mindset and approach. Here is an AP report published on April 22, Earth Day, in The (Charleston) Post and Courier:
"President Barack Obama declared that a ‘new era of energy exploration in America’ would be crucial to leading the nation out of an economic crisis. Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice is between prosperity and decline."
The president describes what he believed was a bigger, more complete picture when he stated that to maintain prosperity rather than decline, we cannot choose between the environment and the economy. We have to choose to focus simultaneously on the environment and the economy to direct future actions ensuring prosperity and thwarting decline.
To deal with this complex situation, he taps the power of "and," getting the best for the environment while not damaging the economy or from the other point of view, spurring the economy while not damaging the environment because we need both to remain healthy and strong.
During the pre-conference session, participants will look at the power of the "and" to understand this approach within themselves to get a more complete picture of how they lead. This new level of awareness will allow participants to see and appreciate the importance of competing interests and be able to apply more strategic insight to the complex issues facing their communities.