08/14/2013 06:16 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2013

The Art of the Master Bridge-Builder: Interview With Nadine Hack

Co-authored by Suzanne Pinckney

"If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." - Henry Ford


Despite the marvels of modern technological connectivity, we are more disconnected than ever. Yet in order to get the good work done that the world needs, we must collaborate. The ability to build and sustain trusting connections, even amongst the most distrusting, is an art Master Bridge-Builder, Nadine Hack, has been working on for decades.

beCause CEO and a Top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior, Nadine was originally inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message of our interconnectedness. Decades later she worked with Nelson Mandela. But Hack says it is defeatist to think you must be extraordinary like King or Mandela to be what she calls an "engagement leader" who can successfully build bridges.

Nadine's simplicated advice includes a story of successful collaboration from the 1970s still yielding amazing results today.

Honesty & Clarity => Trust

Q: With all your experience in building bridges among diverse sectors, turning adversaries into allies, what's your advice to someone facing a bridge to build?

A: You must practice constant iterations of something simple yet profound: create and sustain trust.

To start you must be transparent and clear about everyone's goals and objectives:

Exactly what is each partner honestly willing to contribute and what do they expect to receive?

I've seen countless collaborations fail simply because people weren't explicit with each other - or even themselves - about their expectations. Honesty and clarity of expectations builds trust.

Find the Right Players & Go Beyond Territorial Positions

Q: Where have you been able to successfully build this trust where the situation seemed doomed?

A: In the 1970s we brought together stakeholders from four bitterly antagonist groups - government leaders, community organizers, environmental activists, and the logging industry. They came together on a sustainability initiative long before the term "renewable resource" was in the common lexicon. (Hear the full story in Nadine's TEDx Talk.)

First, we found those who were willing to stay engaged despite the difficulties. People yearn to connect; and when trust starts to flow, they are willing to endure challenges together.

Then, we helped them all be absolutely clear on exactly how they'd benefit and reminded them of their own commitment to contribute.

It took a great deal of bravery and willingness to expand boundaries from all sides. The outcome was comprehensive renewable resource legislation, Investing for Prosperity, which is a blueprint for global green plans even today.

Offer Ongoing Nurturing

Q: How did you keep the stakeholders engaged for the long haul?

A: Engagement is not a one-shot deal; you must offer ongoing nurturing.

Even in our most intimate relationships when we really want to stay connected, we often forget the reasons why we've chosen to engage. Imagine if we can feel like that with those we adore, how much more challenging it is to remember why we want to stay engaged with others.

With the right players in the room, remind them that they have more in common than they thought.

Then nourish these relationships in ongoing iterative cycles, reinforcing the benefits each stands to gain.

Reveal Your Humanity

Q: Is there any special way to do this, like your "secret sauce" for nurturing trust?"

A: Beyond all the many logic-based benefits, of which there were many, our basic shared humanity is absolutely what made this and other efforts like it actually work. This is where the fundamental insights of King and Mandela continue to live on in our work as engagement leaders.

One of the most exhilarating days in the entire process I described was when we had our first neighborhood tree planting party. Everyone was sharing a barbecue, meeting each other's families and even dancing together. It became personal; everyone began to feel the humanity of each other and it was breathtakingly magnificent.

It seems so basic, but remember to reveal your humanity. Think about Nelson Mandela. After 27 brutal years in prison, he emerged as a fervent advocate of engaging with the very people and institutions that had oppressed him.

So, if arch-enemies can find a way to engage with each other, what's stopping you?


Learn more about Nadine and her world-changing work at beCause, on the Huffington Post, and in her 13-minute TEDx talk.

See more in our interview series including our interview with Patrik Frisk, President Timberland USA.