When we think of performance improvement it is usually in reference to one individual or one team or one organization. But this is too limiting. The most important problems in our society cannot be solved by one organization or even one sector. We need to improve the performance of collaborations among companies, governments, and not-for-profit organizations. Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and professor in the Harvard Business School, was interviewed recently by The Wall Street Journal regarding True North, a new book he wrote based on a study of 125 leaders from both business and nonprofit sectors. In the interview, he said:

No business organization, even Exxon where I'm on the board, no government, even the United States government, or no non-profit organization, is powerful enough to solve really tough and complex problems like energy and the environment, health care, global poverty, global peace, education. These all require a collaborative approach. I think what we're going to see is leaders who are comfortable dealing in all of those sectors, and know how to bring people together being the most successful in solving tough problems. I think we'll see this globally integrated leader emerging.

Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international non-government organization based in Washington, D.C., is helping to create these kinds of cross-sector partnerships on a global scale. I had the honor of facilitating a workshop at a conference they co-sponsored in Amman, Jordan: “Leveraging Corporate-Community Partnerships for Women’s Progress.” This gave me the opportunity to see first hand how essential partnerships were being formed among corporations (e.g. HSBC Bank), government agencies (e.g., U.S. Department of State), and non-government organizations (e.g., King Hussein Cancer Center) to address some of the most challenging women’s health problems in the Middle East today. But this is going to take a special kind of leadership. We need, as Bill George has highlighted, to prepare leaders who are comfortable in all three sectors and also have the skills and inclination to bring people together and facilitate collaboration to solve society’s problems. Cisco Systems has a leadership development program in which they lend their executives to U.S. nonprofits and NGOs around the world and in so doing help to build the capacity of these leaders to work in different sectors. I hope more companies, government, and non-government organizations, will share their leaders with each other as a way to develop leaders who can help us “…solve the really tough and complex problems...”

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