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Systemic challenges can’t be solved by visionary leaders alone. They require creative collaboration among colleagues with different roles and perspectives. They require strategic conversations that get above the fray of daily concerns and narrow self-interest to focus on longer-term priorities and collective purpose.
That’s the core contention of our long-time colleagues Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon in a new book/toolkit combination called Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change. Here’s a Rorschach test: are they talking about strategic conversation within a single organization or the conversation necessary to catalyze collective action among many? For leaders in social change, it’s both—which is why this work is a must-read.
The problem that Ertel and Solomon set out to solve is the plague of “okay” strategic conversations that afflict all organizations—conversations that might not be a total disaster but just don’t do much. Strategic conversations that are merely okay can undermine confidence in an organization’s leadership in the short term and over time can lead to bad decisions that can lead to wasted resources, lost opportunities, and sometimes even total failure.
It’s easy to understand why the bar is set so low. First, they note, strategy has gotten harder at the same time as it’s gotten more important. Steady-as-you-go strategic planning has fallen by the wayside in our increasingly volatile and uncertain times. This shift is clearly felt in the social sector as evidenced by the strong response to our short piece on the topic last year. Second, many professionals don’t get trained in the critical leadership skill set of strategic conversation.
Ertel and Solomon argue that we can and must do better. They offer core principles and key practices for designing strategic conversations that generate breakthrough insights by combining the best ideas of those from different backgrounds and perspectives. Such conversations can lift participants above the fray of daily concerns and narrow self-interest, reconnecting them to their greater, collective purpose. And they create deep, lasting impacts that propel organizations and networks forward.