Co-creation through engaging

2017-10-15 Co-Creation through Engaging - Leader As BridgeWelsh proverb: “She/he who would be a leader must be a bridge.”  What I call engagement leaders are, indeed, “bridges” connecting divergent types of people for the advantage of each and all.  They know that deeply engaging internal and external stakeholders in the co-creation of business changes and new initiatives is vital for any strategic action plan to be properly executed.

Nelson Mandela is an archetypal engagement leader.  After 27 brutal years in prison, he emerged as a fervent advocate of engaging with the very people and institutions that oppressed him.  When released, he spent the next four years in negotiation with the stalwarts of apartheid.  As President, he continued to ensure that all faces and voices were represented in government, business and other institutions.

We can learn much from Mandela, but it would be defeatist to think that one must be extraordinary like him to be a successful engagement leader.  The motivation for and value of being an engagement leader in 21st century business should be one’s personal desire to engage with others in order to play a key role in making a positive difference when challenges or opportunities arise, and in our VUCA world, this is an imperative.

Strategic Relational Engagement (SRE)

A broad spectrum of stakeholders has a direct impact on every enterprise’s core business.  In today’s increasingly interconnected world, organizations that foster a deep level of connection with their stakeholders are more successful in shaping that impact to their greatest advantage.  Fostering meaningful relationships can transform stakeholder fear and/or animosity into understanding.

While SRE is a concept I developed, it has many precedents.  Several decades of a growing body of business literature supports the value of team-building, co-creation, consensus among diverse actors and other relational activities for strategic leadership and successful organizational change management.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the “beloved community.”  His belief was that increasing cooperation among allies and winning the friendship of opponents made it possible to live and work together.

King’s idea successfully launched an unprecedented measure of social change.  Applying his ideas to business, bridging the gap even among those with opposing views can achieve consensus so each party gains something while the wider society also benefits.  For companies, this has become the coveted triple bottom line in 21st century business: people, planet, profit.

When business leaders’ rise above their biases about the capacities, or even validity, of certain stakeholders they engage more effectively with a broader spectrum strengthening decision-making.  Some believe status comes from fiercely protecting control and territorial power.  But my experience shows that the more inclusive the style of leadership, the greater success the company achieves.

Roadmap Process

When executives learn and embrace the vital mechanisms of relationship-building, businesses can sustain Strategic Relational Engagement and more assuredly solidify long-term success.  In doing so, they become engagement leaders.  I’ve broken the SRE process down to three main pillars: (I) Create Value through SRE; (II) Overcome Obstacles to SRE; and (III) Sustain SRE for the long-term.

And I’ve mapped each of those into three sub-categories.  For example, to create value through SRE, leaders must understand: the capabilities they already have and which they need to acquire; the conditions must create or eliminate; and the processes that will move them forward.

Making an honest, straightforward, assessment of your company’s SRE capabilities, conditions and processes allows you to properly evaluate strengths, weaknesses and untapped resources.  As great ideas and insightful observations can come from the most unexpected sources, to begin creating SRE in your company, encourage managers and their teams to do this at each level of your operation.

Successful Techniques

All business leaders want to build on, expand and sustain their company’s success.  And, insightful ones know that engaging their internal stakeholders is vital for assuring that there will be buy in and ownership throughout the organization to achieve ambitious (or even basic) goals.  While most leaders usually have explicit frameworks for other internal processes, they often do not have a clear engagement action plan.

You must create concrete structural support. This can’t just be an individual initiative but must be woven into the fabric of how your company operates internally.  To do so, you have to develop systematic mechanisms that value and reward stakeholder collaboration.

There here are some core fundamentals.  Creating trust is absolutely foundational, which you can build by listening and being open to other’s input.  I have helped many organizations try these steps, making course corrections as they engage and learn what works best for them.

Best Practices

In a TEDx talk I gave in Geneva, “Adversaries to Allies” I used an example 40 years ago that I chose because connections forged in 1977 still yield amazing results today.  Anyone who’s interested to hear it can find the YouTube video at this link.

Essentially, four groups who were bitterly antagonistic – government leaders, community organizers, environmental activists and the logging industry – came together on a sustainability initiative long before the term renewable resource was in the common lexicon.  How was this possible?

Because we helped them all be absolutely clear on exactly how they’d benefit.  And then we had to remind each stakeholder – at many times – to refocus on the clarity of why they chose to engage.  This seems so obvious but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen collaborations fail because people simply weren’t really clear to each other – or even themselves – about their expectations.

Social Media

To be successful in today’s world, where diverse stakeholder boundaries expand daily – and exponentially – it is imperative for leaders to build and strengthen relationships even among those who may initially mistrust each other, or who simply have never worked together in the past.

This actually always has been true but with the explosion of social media, everything now is far more interconnected at much faster speeds.  You have stakeholders you may not even want: but, if you don’t have a plan for how to engage with them, you will be captive to how they choose to engage with you.


Whether it’s just within a business unit or between several lines or even among different entities, find those who are willing to try to engage despite the difficulties.  They’re absolutely out there!  There’s an enormous body of research about how much most people really yearn to connect.

So, look for those who have some capacity to engage and make it as easy as possible for them. But engagement is not a one-shot deal: it doesn’t happen overnight; you must offer ongoing nurturing.   And what’s truly interesting to me is that beyond all the logic-based benefits, of which there are many, what absolutely makes this actually work is our basic shared humanity.

And this is where the fundamental insights of leaders like King and Mandela play out in our everyday lives.  Even former arch-enemies had to experience that they had more in common than they thought.  They always do and you can be an engagement leader by helping this happen.

With an appreciation of connectedness, an engagement leader has a distinct advantage in sustaining business success in the interconnected 21st century.  His/her ability to foster relationships improves business productivity, profitability and sustainability.  While simultaneously satisfying stakeholders, this leads to greater satisfaction of shareholders.


I first published a version of this piece in the Library of Professional Coaching where I am a frequent contributor.  If interested see more articles by and/or interviews of me on the insights page of my website or watch my TEDx Adversaries to Allies, a distillation of key themes in this article.  For a more detailed description of Strategic Relational Engagement (SRE) see my earlier LinkedIn April 2017 article; and for an even more in-depth analysis of SRE, my two part-series on Huffington Post – Improving Stakeholder Engagement and Engagement Leadership.

{ 28 comments… add one }

  • Thomas October 21, 2017, 9:30 pm

    An intense article in the right perspective. A GUIDE TO SUCCESS in a world where –
    Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership and some with leadership thrust upon them.

    • Nadine B. Hack October 22, 2017, 8:37 am

      Thomas – I’m glad my article resonated with you.

  • Suwaidou Touray October 21, 2017, 11:12 pm

    Interesting and educative article.

    PS; Love your TEDx talk

  • Paul Shugarman October 21, 2017, 11:24 pm

    I’ve known Nadine for about 5 years now. Her SRE concept is not only how bussinss is run. It can be utilize in personal life as well. I’ve watch her awesome TEDx video on how to engage with people. Getting close to someone is our greatest fear. By getting close we can respect, and understand that person and/or group. Thank you Nadine for bringing to our attention, being personable, and spiritual to our lives is shared humanity.

    • Nadine B. Hack October 22, 2017, 8:42 am

      Paul – I love how you, as a co-creator at Ohana! (means family in Hawaiian) worldwide, with other co-creators, have been working towards creating a world that is a better place! – Mahalo!

  • Maureen Hetherington October 22, 2017, 9:23 am

    Thank you Nadine. There is deep wisdom in these words. They resonate strongly with me as we (the community and voluntary) in Northern Ireland, try to, in the absence of a government and crucial leadership for nine months, provide ethical leadership and keep connections open between antagonistic and often vulnerable groupings. I am angry and frustrated at the self-serving and dishonest nature of our politics and ashamed of the inability of our ‘leaders’ to lead and to work for the greater good. I am going to forward your article to colleagues and politicians and encourage a discourse that moves us from our current impasse. Many thanks for your ongoing inspiration in times when our light dims.

    • Nadine B. Hack October 22, 2017, 9:39 am

      Maureen – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Thank goodness for activists like you who tirelessly work for justice despite all the obstacles and set backs!

  • Mualla Lovgren October 22, 2017, 10:22 am

    Dear Nadine!
    Reading this article”opens the mind and expands it”. A well educated mind is the one who has learned how to learn and change. The beautiful message of yours gives the world a reminder how small change can make a huge difference and the world definitely is still a beautiful place. By the way the TEDx is like a wake up moment for many of us today. Well Done!

    Thank you for your wise contribution and always great to connect with you Nadine!!

    • Nadine B. Hack October 22, 2017, 10:37 am

      Mualla – absolutely, it’s the small acts that ultimately create the big change. As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

  • Lynn Franklin October 22, 2017, 10:46 am

    Thank you Nadine. SRE is the strategy we all need in organizations and broadly in this polarized world. Every step we take individually towards it makes a difference.

    • Nadine B. Hack October 22, 2017, 11:13 am

      Lynn – SRE is built on millennium of great thinkers who advocate more openness, connectedness, trust and engagement with “the other.” It’s like South African concept of “Ubuntu” – I am a person through my relationships with other persons – that you know so well. And, Martin Buber’s “I-Thou.”

  • Samir EMILE October 22, 2017, 1:46 pm

    Excellent article

    Wonder if you can post it on

    Thank you Nadine ….Samir

  • Keith D. Patch October 22, 2017, 3:50 pm

    Hi Nadine–

    I continue to be impressed with your clarity of communicating important concepts like these. SRE appears to be a fool-proof method of successfully maximizing engagement for not only for-profit corporations, but also for non-profits.

    I will be internalizing your SRE method going forward, as connections have always been, and will certainly continue to be the most important way of the world.



    • Nadine B. Hack October 22, 2017, 3:54 pm

      Keith – that is so true about connections! As I say on home page of my website “creating connectedness is at our core” and this is what I’ve dedicated my life to doing in all spheres, professional and personal.

  • Corey Dunfey October 22, 2017, 4:58 pm

    I love that proverb, and applaud all bridge builders. (NOT wall builders, need I even say?) We desperately need some ongoing nurturing, though we may need to restart with actual nurturing, of our shared humanity. Great blog Nadine!

    • Nadine B. Hack October 23, 2017, 7:40 am

      Corey – yes, bridging leadership is vitally needed throughout the world. Glad you found this piece meaningful.

  • Kojo Dufu October 23, 2017, 2:41 pm

    “She/he who would be a leader must be a bridge.” I wish this were the Anthem for 2017/2018. We need this more than ever.

    • Nadine B. Hack October 23, 2017, 2:59 pm

      Kojo – absolutely, we need this now more than ever! I know you and Tiffany certainly are doing your part in what I call the long relay race for justice!

  • Patricia Ewing October 23, 2017, 3:51 pm

    Nadine’s process is revolutionary. This is corporate management for adults. We are learning that what is on the inside is the same as the outside and visa versa. If the inside of a company is fraught with fear and consternation, or if the leadership takes advantage of employees or their customers, its time is borrowed. We see many leaders fall because their personal life belie’s their outward image. So doing the work of living up to adult standards of integrity down to the entry level employee, in our age of instant knowledge creates safety for company growth.

    • Nadine B. Hack October 23, 2017, 4:32 pm

      Pat – your sage insight has always been true: it’s just harder for people to “hide” these days in our highly connected world, which calls for the transparency we always should have had. I know you’ve been advising people and enterprises about that for a long time and I admire your work.

  • Elisabeth Mattes October 23, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Thank you, Nadine, for the great article. After 20 years in the management of big corporations I totally appreciate that finding fruitful cooperation (+ pleasure) is the only way to success.

    • Nadine B. Hack October 23, 2017, 4:36 pm

      Elisabeth – your training on sustainable futures and digital storytelling via and your other fascinating endeavors support all this.

  • Sheila T. Scott October 25, 2017, 10:58 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. I totally agree with all of your concepts of humanity and connectedness, building bridges that truly applies to all facets of daily life and living. I feel that great bridge and humanity when I sing to institutionalized populations. I admire your insightful work so much as you truly have a gift to connect with everyone from all walks of life. You are truly gifted!

    • Nadine B. Hack October 26, 2017, 8:20 am

      Sheila – music, indeed, is something that connects people across cultures, languages and other barriers. Your beautiful voice has that power!

  • Anna Hill October 29, 2017, 12:09 pm

    An inspiring blog, thank you for sharing your Tedx talk, wisdom and experience.

    In these times of resurgent nationalism with divisive and antagonistic politics, it is important to find strength in the bigger picture by engaging stakeholders beyond territories, beyond comfort zones and dualities. We must focus on engaging shared humanity and innovating socially as well as in “hard” civil engineering terms. I agree we must co-create systemic solutions to the very real complex problems we all share in the world today.

    River Cycleway Consortium is striving for a more sustainable circular economy. One in which all stakeholders, including the environment, benefit.

    Building Bridges is the perfect metaphor of generating engagement across cultural, intergovernmental and connected citizenship using engineering as the platform.

    In 2015 I interviewed Edwin Hunt age 95 (the interview is at Edwin Hunt is a survivor of World War 2 in which he led others to liberate France and the Netherlands using his deep knowledge of the tides and the river Thames to land troops and equipment on D-Day.

    It was his life as a “waterman” and love of the river Thames that connected Edwin and I during our “bridge building” encounter and exchange at the Mayflower Pub. I learnt an enormous amount from a man who helped to deliver the Bailey Bridges and had spent his life on the River. Edwin was open minded enough to consider my proposal without the bias or black and white judgement that other people chose to immediately dismiss it with. His depth of insight and clear mindedness was based on his knowledge of the river.

    I have learnt to hold onto these gems of human encounters and the positive conversations and to build around these conversations for more inclusive interdisciplinary and cross-generational engagements.

    It is how we listen and we interrelate as humans that is important in this equation.

    It is also how we show respect and dignity to those without a voice in the transport and energy systems we design, the foods we eat, the waste we generate, the way in which we nurture our interrelatedness as people within the planetary ecosystem that supports us.

    Thanks for the inspiration Nadine. I look forward to applying your Strategic Relational Engagement!

    • Nadine B. Hack October 29, 2017, 1:03 pm

      Anna – your Thames Deckway Project of the River Cycleway Consortium is a wonderful initiative! I wish you every success with it and I encourage others to check it out


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