Use Your Convening Power

Most government leaders are working in an environment where the authority and resources they need to accomplish their mission are dispersed across multiple agencies, many levels of government, and the commercial and non-profit sectors. They struggle to accomplish their mission with limited funding and at times even more limited authorities. Some leaders throw up their hands and accept making limited progress but the most effective leaders I’ve worked with find another way. They realize that the government has one less defined but potentially powerful capability. It has, in the words of Joseph Nye, the “soft power” of a convener. Smart leaders use that soft power to bring the key parties together and shape strategies collaboratively. They identify the core customers in their stakeholder base, call them together to understand their needs and requirements, and then build their strategy and vision around those needs. As I’ve seen many times using your convening power to unite a community behind a strategy translates into real progress. Other partners and stakeholders will often join your effort as they see you creating momentum. In some cases, those other partners will even allocate their own resources to help you along.

Keep three things in mind as you consider this approach:

  1. Not all stakeholders are created equal. As you start your effort, spend some time on understanding your stakeholders. You need to determine who your core customers are and within that group understand who has the most influence. Many times strategies succeed or fail based on the support of a small number of very influential people. You need to know who they are and what they want up front.
  2. Focus on quick wins. In the long term, you need to invest in things that might not have an immediate payoff but as John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run we are all dead.” In the short term you need to create momentum. Most people are cynical about strategy efforts and unless they see real action out of the process, they will tune it out. Focus on finding a handful of initiatives that are achievable in a reasonable amount of time while you pursue that longer term vision.
  3. Over communicate. Another reason many efforts fail is a lack of attention to communicating progress. Perception is often reality and you need to shape how people perceive your effort. As a government leader I know once said, “You have to shout it from the mountain tops.” Use every means at your disposal including social media, blogging, speaking events, and in person meetings to get the word out about the momentum you are creating.