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Developing Leadership to Sustain Community Coalitions

The following is a summary of a 1.5 hour presentation provided by Kim Badovinac at "Manage the Energy: A Joint Conference on the Prevention of Injury and Impaired Driving," on February 21, 2000 in Toronto. It complements other OHPE Bulletins, most recently, Anne Lessio's description of the HHRC Sustainability Model (#144.1, Feb. 18/00).

Kim Badovinac has worked in the health promotion field for over 12 years, specifically in the areas of drinking-driving, smoking prevention, public health advocacy and workplace wellness. She provides presentations and workshops in the areas of advocacy, strategic planning, presentation skills, leadership and stress management to community groups and health organizations. For more information, please contact Kim at: Tel. (416) 489-2139; E-mail:

A. Introduction

A great deal has been written about leadership, particularly in the

management sciences area. This does not mean that there is consensus about what constitutes an effective leader. However, there is a noticeable shift in the literature -- from an emphasis on "how to do it" to "how to be." This phrase, the "how to be" leader, comes from Frances Hesselbein, a leader in the non-profit sector in the U.S., who is currently the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management.

Hesselbein proposes that leaders of the future will focus on how to develop quality, character, mind-set, values, principles and courage (Hesselbein, 1996). This moral development theme parallels the emphasis on corporate social responsibility, which we have witnessed over the past decade. In this short article, I have expanded on this notion of the "how to be" leader and provided some sample exercises of how coalition leaders might work toward enhancing the capacity of their coalitions.

In what I consider a very good book, Rosen (1996) proposes eight principles of leading people. Although he is applying these principles to the running of a commercial enterprise, they are consistent with Hesselbein's "how to be" concept and have relevance in terms of leading community coalitions. The eight principles are described below along with some sample exercises that coalition leaders may want to try.


Leaders see and are able to articulate the broad perspective. By doing so, they create a common purpose that mobilizes people and coordinates the efforts of the coalition. (Virtually every book written on the topic of leadership focuses extensively on the importance of vision. I will not provide details here but encourage you to review this material if you do not already have a good grounding on this key principle.)

*Exercise: If you are a leader of a coalition, look first at developing a vision of your own leadership. Develop a philosophy of leadership to which you are committed. Articulate this philosophy to others. Involve them in periodically assessing the extent to which you are living up to your beliefs.


Leaders are predictable and share information and power. They facilitate a culture of openness which binds people together. Trusted leaders accept responsibility when things don't go according to plan and recognize the contribution of others when things go well. Trust is largely dependent on the extent to which people are permitted to fully participate in the coalition, the extent to which they feel listened to, and the integrity demonstrated by the leader.

*Exercise: Devote the first 15-minutes of your next coalition meeting to testing assumptions. Invite each member to express something they assume about the issue or the coalition (its processes, activities, etc.). Allow time for discussion and clarification. This is a good test of the extent to which there is open communication and trust in your group.


Leaders inspire and encourage the participation of all members, recognizing that the energy of the group is based on collective participation and effort.

Goodman and his colleagues (1998) point out that participation and leadership are two important and related dimensions of community capacity.

Even with leaders in place, it is hard to build capacity without a strong base of actively involved members. Having willing members without effective leadership is also not likely to build capacity. There is a transaction (give and take) between leaders and followers. For example:

Leaders provide their coalition with:

- direction and structure

- opportunities to participate

- acquisition of needed resources

- expression of community values

- etc.

Coalition members provide their leaders with:

- a base for organizing

- momentum

- a diverse base of skills

- perspectives on what is important

- etc.

*Exercise: If you are a coalition leader, look at the participation rates in your coalition. Start by identifying all the members. Then list the activities in which they are involved as well as the decisions in which they have participated. What percentage of members are actively involved? Look at ways to actively encourage broad participation in decision-making, even if it means reducing your own personal power.


Leaders have high levels of self-awareness and work toward addressing their shortcomings. They encourage and assist others to do the same. Successful leaders are those with high levels of self-knowledge -- they compensate for those durable traits that they cannot change and build on their strengths. They also recognize that they cannot possibly know everything and take the opportunity to learn from others in their group and defer to their knowledge and skills.

*Exercise: If you are a coalition leader, take time to complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. Answer the following:

What are the key strengths that you bring to your role as leader?

What are your main weaknesses?

What opportunities are there to build on your strengths?

What circumstances or situations threaten your strengths?

What opportunities are there to build on your weaknesses?

What circumstances or situations pose threats given your weaknesses?

What can you do to optimize the opportunities and reduce the threats?


Leaders recognize the strength that comes with diverse membership. They purposively and actively recruit to enhance diversity. They work toward fostering an appreciation for members' differences and an atmosphere of mutual respect. Effective leaders promote diversity as a core value for the coalition.

*Exercise: Conduct a diversity audit of your coalition. Look at the age, gender, ethnic/racial, geographic representation and economic composition of your coalition. Ask the question, "Who is not here? Are certain groups of people actively (or subtly) discouraged from participating?" List all possible groups who would have something to contribute to your cause. Develop an appropriate outreach plan, looking at new ways to recruit members.


Leaders encourage independent and challenging thinking. They look at ways and processes that will capitalize on the strengths of their members. Creativity also involves the ability to take in new information and respond in flexible ways according to circumstances and needs.

*Exercise: If you are a coalition leader, look at creative ways to increase citizen involvement. Offer a variety of participation options. Actively and regularly invite the community to participate. Have multiple entry points for new people to become involved. Look for ways to recruit new members and promote a flow of new ideas and skills.


Leaders act in accordance to their conscience, being guided by the principles of trust and mutual respect of others. Integrity is all about walking the talk.

Despite our best intentions, we don't realize the subtle ways that we inadvertently violate our beliefs and, in doing so, send confusing signals to others. It is important to consciously monitor our behaviour and seek and listen to feedback from others.

*Exercise: Choose a value that is personally important to you. List some of the specific ways in which you currently demonstrate this value in your day-to-day behaviour. What other things could you do to live out this value? Get feedback from someone close to you to validate your analysis. (Adapted from: Napolitano & Henderson, 1998.)


Leaders recognize that the highest commitment is to the creation of a healthy community. For coalition leaders, this means facilitating capacity-building through the active development of leadership within our coalitions. It is important to recognize that as we push for reform to create community change, coalitions will have different needs at different points. To effectively move the coalition forward, fluid leadership is often required.

Successful leaders recognize when the situation is right for their leadership and when there are others who can more appropriately fill the needs of the group.

*Exercise: List the leadership skills you need in your coalition and identify which individuals would be best suited to learn those skills. Ask the questions: Who will be able to successfully handle the leadership responsibilities? Who would be interested in and excited by this challenge? Is there someone who will grow and blossom in this position. Set leadership develop goals and individualized plans with each potential leader. (From Community Tool Box.)

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C. Conclusions

Rosen points out that it is highly unlikely that one single leader would be equally effective in all eight areas. He suggests that good leaders recognize their strengths and compensate in other areas by team or collective leadership. The ultimate act of leadership, according to Rosen, is to create a "culture of leading." This notion is inherent in the term "servant leader" (see the Community Tool Box in the Resource section) and is eloquently summarized by Bornstein and Smith (1996): "Leadership is now understood by many to imply collective action, orchestrated in such a ways as to bring about significant change while raising the competencies and motivation of all those involved -- that is, action where more than one individual influences the process" (p. 282). This is particularly relevant within the context of community coalitions.

D. References

Bornstein, S.M. & Smith, A.F. (1996). The puzzles of leadership. In F. Hesselbein, M. Goldsmith & R. Beckhard (Eds.), The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the Next Era. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Community Tool Box - Chapter 10: Building Leadership.

Goodman, R.M. et al. (1998). Identifying and defining the dimensions of community capacity to provide a basis for measurement. Health Education & Behavior, 25(3), 258-278.

Hesselbein, F. (1996) The "How to Be" leader. In F. Hesselbein, M. Goldsmith & R. Beckhard (Eds.), The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the Next Era. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Napolitano, C.S. & Henderson, L.J. (1998). The Leadership Odyssey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Rosen , R.H. (1996). Leading People: The 8 Proven Principles for Success in Business. New York: Penguin Books.

For more information, please contact:

Kim Badovinac

412 Eglinton Ave. E., #209

Toronto, ON M4P 1M1

Tel. (416) 489-2139