Kirk Emerson

Emerson’s reasoning starts from the recognition that the public business increasingly occurs in the context of cooperation across the public, private, non-profit and civic sectors. Therefore, policy implementation and the provision of public goods and services take place through myriad combinations of multi-sector contracts, grants, partnerships and other hybrid arrangements. Hence the need for leaders able to manage cross-sector governance.

Emerson identified six leadership principles for cross-sector collaboration, described by the author as follows.

  • Sharing commitment is the first principle of effective collaborative leadership. Leaders work together to identify their common interests, understand the nature of the opportunity to be seized or the problem to be solved and agree on a strategy for moving forward together. They commit themselves, and those they represent, to work on a shared goal with clear conditions and expectations.
  • Sharing responsibility is a basic collaboration principle that grows out of shared commitment. Leaders agree to share the benefits and burdens of taking on a shared mission and attendant responsibilities. Contributions to the joint effort need not be identical, but correspond to each leader’s abilities and unique assets.
  • Sharing power is a challenging but essential principle of collaborative leadership. It requires an appreciation for the complexity of the problem and the fact that one jurisdiction or sector cannot solve it alone. Leading across sectors is “leading when no one is in charge,” where power-sharing is the likely way forward. This does not mean forsaking one’s own formal authority or values and beliefs, but rather using one’s power strategically and expanding the new shared authority through cross-sector collaboration.
  • Sharing capacity is a hallmark of effective cross-sector leadership. The purpose of such collaboration is to solve a public problem that could not otherwise be accomplished. This requires creating new capacity by leveraging shared knowledge and resources, building new institutional arrangements and attracting more leaders. Inspiring and maintaining new synergies and fostering mutual learning are critical components of this important leadership principle.
  • Sharing credit represents the humility principle that effective collaborative leaders exercise as they “check their egos at the door”. Cross-sector leaders understand their interdependent relationships with their fellow leaders and share the credit for joint accomplishments within and across organizations and sectors.
  • Sharing accountability is perhaps the most difficult principle to take on. Who is ultimately accountable for performance in a cross-sector initiative? There are many directions for finger-pointing in collaboration. To demonstrate this principle, leaders must be explicit at the outset about what success and failure will look like, how they will measure it and how they will learn from it. Tracking progress and adjusting along the way toward their shared goals will help facilitate shared accountability for collaborative performance.

According to Emerson, to respect these principles, leaders in cross-sector settings should acquire a set of competences, i.e., attributes, skills and behaviours, as listed below.

  • Collaborative mindset
  • Passion toward outcomes
  • Systems thinking
  • Openness and risk taking
  • Sense of mutuality and
  • Humility
  • Self-management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Facilitation skills
  • Stakeholder identification
  • Stakeholder assessment
  • Strategic issues framing
  • Convening working groups
  • Facilitation mutual learning process
  • Inducing commitment
  • Facilitation trusting relationships among partners