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Leadership for results

Ajay Tejasvi Narasimhan's picture
In my experience, when development practitioners are called in to help address a complex challenge, they are not alone. Every development project requires an implementation team – people working together to achieve development objectives and outcomes. Depending on the nature of the challenge, practitioners may work with government officials, staff from NGOs and CSOs, community leaders, sector specialists, and others. It, thus, becomes vitally important for members of these teams to understand one another and the stake each has in the project, the perspective from which they approach it, and their assumptions about it, their history with, and their commitment to it.
In addition, development professionals must become knowledgeable about the reality of the communities in which they work to avoid designing implementation plans that don’t always work out as intended. For example, we have all heard the stories of cook stoves or toilets that are introduced into communities, but are used as storage objects. This attention to personal, political, and social factors affecting project design and implementation is precisely what the Collaborative Leadership for Development Program helps operational teams achieve and maintain, to get desired results.
In the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior, the World Bank identifies three kinds of thinking we all do by reflex.
  • Thinking automatically, rather than carefully and deliberatively – we typically do not bring our full analytical prowess to bear on the issues and experiences of our daily lives;
  • Thinking socially, or in ways that are related to how others around us think – the influence of peer-pressure on our thought process is an example; and
  • Thinking with mental models generated by societal norms and the culture in which we live that tacitly influence how we perceive and think about our world.

These ways of thinking, research suggests, are implicit and fundamental and they shape human behavior, including interpersonal and collective interactions and decision making. This insight has enormous implications for our development work. If we do not account for and bring to the surface such social, cultural, and psychological realities in the design and implementation of projects, we can expect to be setting ourselves up for failure. Most challenges today are a complex mix of technical problems and behavioral or adaptive challenges.

For development professionals the urgent question is how to acknowledge and make use of these ways of thinking in order to improve the design and implementation of interventions. In Chapter 11 of the 2015 World Development Report, three ways are recommended:

  1. Investing more time, energy, and resources upfront in defining and diagnosing the problem to be addressed.
  2. Approaching project implementation itself as an experiment, which implies being open to the possibility that particular elements of the implementation approach may fail and need to be adjusted or changed.
  3. Ensuring that development professionals, as well as their organizations and institutions, subject themselves to the same kind of analysis of behavior – social, cultural, and psychological – that is applied to the context of clients. It is imperative for development practitioners to do their best to avoid allowing their own assumptions and mental models to be projected onto problem diagnosis and intervention design, and they must be supported in that effort by organizational and institutional environments that support experimentation and self-reflection.
The Collaborative Leadership for Development Program was designed to help jump-start or accelerate the implementation of WBG projects and reform initiatives. In the past few years, we have focused on all of the above recommendations to add value to WBG operations. As such, these observations confirm the value of our theoretical framework and approach that focuses on changing mindsets and behaviors that are impeding progress towards implementations goals. Working in concert with WBG operations and country client teams, the Collaborative Leadership for Development Program builds the capacity of client teams to mobilize stakeholders, overcome political-economy challenges, build high-functioning coalitions, and achieve meaningful results within a short time frame. In doing so, it also helps communities, organizations, and institutions internalize innovations that can help to sustain or carry forward project-related achievements.
The Program does not step in and solve implementation problems. Rather, its function is to improve the capacity of the implementation team itself to address the behavioral or “people” issues, in tandem with its technical problems, impeding implementation. Having assisted more than 100 client teams from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia over the last five years, the approach has a clear track record of success. Nonetheless, the team is committed to continuously improving the approach to meet the needs of WBG teams and projects around the world.
If you want to learn more about the approach and collaborative leadership theories and practical success stories, join us from June 1-3 at the Global Leadership Forum.

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