First and foremost, if there were ever a time
for a leader to be externally oriented, mission focused, and opportunity
seeking, this is it. If the agency traditionally does what it has always done
in the manner in which it has always done it, there will be a tremendous amount
of work to be done to transform to a family centered, neighborhood-based
approach. A shared vision which sets forth the values which will underpin the
directional change must be created and shared. The agency’s mission that defines
the agency’s unique contribution to those values and the FCNB, directional
change must be created and shared. Priority initiatives which identify what
must be done first, second, and so forth to “turn the ship” must be
decided upon and discrete activities to begin the hard work developed. This
planning must be done in cooperation with the neighborhood, the broader
community, and agency staff. No shared plan, no success.
As discussed previously, excellence is not a
place, it is a destination. Anyone expecting this transition to occur in a
short period of time is unrealistic.
One of the successful, adaptive leader’s
primary tasks is to gauge the amount of pressure the agency, the neighborhood,
and the broader community can bear without collapsing and setting the
“pressure gauge” slightly below that level. Additionally, while you
are transforming the manner in which business is conducted, the day-to-day job
of assessing reports of child abuse and neglect, working with families in
crisis, recruiting foster and adoptive families, and the many other tasks
required for safe children and stable families must continue. The leadership of
the agency must comprehensively bifurcate its efforts and, in all likelihood,
there will be no clear line of demarcation as to how that will occur.
Beyond that, and once the stakeholder map is
developed, relationships must be forged or strengthened with existing and
potential stakeholders. Support and legitimation must be garnered from
neighborhood leaders, political office holders, the media, the judiciary, and
other key stakeholders you have identified on your map. Certain members of
agency leadership will be more appropriate to “open doors” with
certain external stakeholders than others. The executive must be the one to
approach certain key elected officials, community leaders, and others. Other
agency staff may be more appropriate to open the door with foster parents, the
media, community leaders and others. Whoever is chosen, the decision should be
strategic and not merely whomever is available or just happens to be assigned
to do it.
Internal agency work must be maintained while
at the same time be adapted. Different staff members may be chosen to champion
these efforts. New technologies of family case conferencing, structured decision
making, supporting staff and foster parents to make the transition, and
involving the neighborhood and broader community in appropriate decisions
become desired behaviors toward which all must adapt. This adaptation must be
supported with clear expectations, training, and monitored continuously. Data
must be collected and shared regularly within and without the organization to
determine if the interventions being made do positively affect children and
families and to maintain commitment to the change when energy is low or crisis
occurs. This feedback loop is absolutely critical to maintain momentum.
The polestar that guides these transformation
efforts incorporates the values (vision), the mission (safe children and stable
families), and the outcomes which have been identified to contribute to the
attainment of both. The series of system transformation plans set forth the
steps to move toward the destination of excellence that has been mutually
defined with the neighborhood and broader community.
The leader must keep his hand on the rudder
of the boat, maintaining the appropriate compass bearing toward the destination
while providing all possible supports for the staff and neighborhood to do the
many transformational and maintenance tasks required to come closer-and-closer
to the desired destination. This requires the leader to be rigidly focused on
the ends and less concerned with the means (as long as they are prudent and
ethical). This type of adaptive leadership approach fosters adaptation and increased
leadership at all levels of the effort, enables creativity to flourish, and
shares the tremendous amount of work needing to be done in a positive manner.
The leader who succeeds is smart enough to know that he cannot accomplish such
an adaptation by himself.
As resources are diverted from institutional
or congregate care, there may be certain public and private stakeholders who
attempt to exert political pressure to stop this diversion. From a private
stakeholder perspective, this change may mean the end of its existence if
children are not placed in sufficient numbers to maintain financial solvency.
From a public stakeholder perspective, the lack of convenience for agency staff
or the court to have a quick placement for children may be an issue. Agency leadership
must foresee and manage these issues since private agencies and courts may have
access to political officials who can undermine the change effort.
The agency must have data measuring:
children are better off with this new approach.
the approach is more cost efficient.
the initiative achieves the values and mission of safe children and stable
Strategic communication efforts providing
ongoing information to political stakeholders, the courts, private agencies,
the media, and the tax paying public, setting forth how FCNB practice not only
provides better outcomes for children and families but also is more cost
effective, are critical. Who can argue with better outcomes at a cost savings
without looking self-serving?
The transition from a single agency providing
child protection services in a traditional manner to a family centered
neighborhood-based approach to child protection provides the opportunity to
illustrate the application of the concepts of leadership, systems
transformational planning, strategic communications, stakeholder mapping,
adaptive leadership, self-evaluation, and others set forth in this book. FCNB
was chosen because it is not a unilateral silver bullet approach like
children’s homes, foster care, permanence planning, and family preservation
were. Instead, it encompasses all these philosophies and adds the concepts of
“neighborhood” and self-evaluation to an integrated approach to
increasing child safety and family stability.
For the new adaptive leaders in child
protection to be successful in making this transition, they must create the
value for the change itself. This requires a sustained effort over time.
However, it is clear from the focus group research discussed earlier that the
public values child safety and family stability. Those are the central outcomes
or ends it values. The adaptive leaders job is to create a means to better
accomplish the public’s desire.
the adaptive leader’s job is to acquire enough legitimation and support from
the authorizing environment to move forward and sustain the change through
time. Blatant as it may sound, the leader must “manage” the political
environment. The bottom-line outcome is no less than replacing the old way of
doing business that is in-place and has been well-entrenched for years. Since
this takes time, the political actors and landscape will change over that time
and must be managed on an ongoing basis for the change to become embedded.
Third, the adaptive leader must develop the
operational capacity to implement the change. This may mean new financial
resources at certain times in the transformational process, maintaining current
resources, and tapping the wealth of resources from the neighborhood that have
been cultivated through the effort.
adaptive leader must measure his strategic performance. Are his strategies and
adaptive efforts resulting in increased value, higher legitimation, and stable,
adequate operational capacity? If so, the adaptive leader is succeeding. If
not, children and families are less well off than they deserve to be.