A big, hairy elephant sits on the discussion table between Ecuadoran community leaders and the local and national political leaders. The elephant? The growing concern over the shortage of clean, usable water.
I’ve been in meetings the last few days in Ecuador with several community leaders, appointed congressmen, non-governmental officers, and local and national government leaders. And they all agree that the clean water shortage is a fast-growing problem.
The good news: Everyone is talking about it. The problem: The talk isn’t leading to action.
At some point, collaboration and dialogue became the priority and a pacifying mindset developed – “if we just talk about it enough, surely something will happen.” The objective became the discussion, not the result. Community leaders seem to feel that everything will be OK just as long as they are heard. And the government appears to feel that it will avoid an uproar just as long as it listens to the concerns of the community leaders.
This sentiment existed everywhere I went. Everyone agreed they needed to move toward action, but they struggled with the “how” and admitted feeling stuck. In the meantime, they also acknowledged a growing fear that water inevitably will be privatized – a high-cost consequence to already struggling communities.
One of the main things I’ve learned in studying Anywhere Leaders is that they know when to collaborate and when to take action. So I encouraged these leaders that it’s time to bring creative solutions to the discussion table, not just talking points. One idea that emerged involved getting corporations more involved in creating and supporting the solutions that are of such great importance to these communities – which, of course, are made up of the corporation’s customers.
Coca-Cola, for instance, should have an opinion about this. The company is huge in Ecuador. The main ingredient in its soft drinks is water. And its “water stewardship” is one of its corporate “sustainability” efforts. It’s time to find out what Coca-Cola has to say – how it can possibly become part of the solution and exercise its significant influence. But these communities will have to learn that Coca-Cola can be an ally, not an enemy.
In our discussions, we arrived at a few action steps for community and political leaders:
- We determined how they would approach Coca-Cola for its potential involvement.
- We determined how solutions can be proposed in meetings – emphasizing shared values and objectives.
- We determined how to prioritize requests and how to seek incremental progress over an unrealistic “perfect plan.”
This is an enormous issue, of course, and I’m not naive enough to think that a few discussions with a few key people will bring drastic change. But I am hopeful that a few key leaders will consider a new approach. Incremental progress, right!
Collaboration and dialogue is good when it leads to action. It’s bad when it is an excuse for stagnation. To ensure your collaborations and dialogues are productive, consider these things:
- Make sure the objective is to solve the problem, not to dialogue the problem.
- Set a concluding period for your collaboration and dialogue. Don’t allow discussions to dribble on continuously. Set a point for decisiveness.
- Capture specific and tactical actions, tasks, or next steps following a period of dialogue to ensure your discussions are productive.