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Art of collaboration

Paul Andersen

There is a good reason why Tom Baker was chosen for the challenging job of town manager for Carbondale. It’s the same reason that made Baker a positive force as Basalt town manager.It’s not about studiously applying group psychology or being a master power broker and manipulator. Rather, Baker sincerely endeavors to establish honest relationships within his chosen community.As a collaborative leader, Baker has few peers, which is why his presentation at a seminar last week in Basalt was rich with lessons in how to bring people together for a unified approach to problem solving in communities.Baker is a student of “social ecology,” the science of the totality of relationships within human societies. Ecology most commonly implies connections between organisms and their environment, but Baker’s focus is on the relationships between people and their environment. It’s a way of looking at communities and organizations organically.Baker spoke as a panelist for the Collaborative Leadership workshop jointly sponsored by Roaring Fork Leadership and the Aspen Valley Community Foundation. The program explored the challenges of leadership within diverse communities, whether small mountain towns or large corporations.Collaborative leadership is the all-important bridge between people and the institutions, communities, and fellow citizens that make up their social environment. Collaborative leadership taps the synergy that comes from the friction generated by social contact.”Common interests create branches of social ecology,” said Baker, who credits Jim Kent, a Basalt-based social consultant, with his grasp of communities and the way they function. Those branches are formed at community meeting places, said Baker, like the barbershop, the neighborhood bar or the frozen food aisle at City Market.Baker works to build social capital, the bonding agent for successful communities. By working through informal local networks, and establishing a logical flow of communication and information, Baker’s relationships are personal and built on trust.”Avoid the traps of bureaucracy that buffer feedback on a personal level,” recommended Baker, “and you’ll find that the reality of collaborative success is easier in practice than it is in theory.”Baker’s success comes naturally through his personable sincerity. By listening and caring, he shows that a collaborative leader can make vital connections and bring unity to even the most contentious communities. He works toward inclusion in order to align community members and establish commonalties that ultimately define the best interests of the whole.And what is the key for this type of leadership and a sound and balanced approach to community health? “Listen to your internal barometer,” said Baker. Trust your gut feelings, he emphasized. Honor your intuitive knowing and act from a firm foundation of fairness and integrity. Rely on a generosity of spirit.Sound easy? It’s not. Very few leaders can step back from their egos and trust in collaborations. Few leaders grant others the authority to do the work or give them credit when the work is done. Baker has this ability because he places constructive process over authoritarian rule.By focusing, not on a top-down, singular agenda, but on a bottom-up collaborative ideal, leaders can assemble a strong, supportive constituency empowered by community will, individual passion and a desire to benefit the whole.Paul Andersen wonders what happened to collaborative leadership in Washington, D.C. His column appears on Mondays.


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