Growing Leadership

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Photo from xinem

Picking up from Gibran’s post yesterday and continuing in the vein of follow-up to our LLC webinar on collective leadership, I want to respond to some of the questions we did not have a chance to answer or answer fully from participants, including requests for examples of collective leadership in action and inquiries about blocks and how to work through or overcome them.

With respect to stories, Gibran and I mentioned a few in passing about which we have blogged in the past, and so I wanted to turn readers to these posts for more information, if you have not seen them:

I also want to echo Gibran’s caution that we not mistake the raft for the shore by exhalting collective leadership for its own sake.  As we mentioned in our opening comments during the webinar, there seem to be a variety of drivers (complexity, distributed networks, and the systemic nature of social and environmental  issues) encouraging us to look at more collective models of leading, at tapping what Kevin Kelley calls “hive mind,” engaging diverse systemic perspectives to make better sense of the world around us, shaping compelling images of our shared future, and ensuring that there are enough hands to do the work.   And there are plenty of instances where issues are not so complex and more of an individualistic or perhaps “expert” approach can suit the situation (for more on this, check out David Snowden’s very helpful Cynefin Framework).

That said, we can certainly default (and inappropriately or ineffectively so) to more individualistic ways of seeing, being, and doing.  This begs the question, What gets in the way of adopting a more collective lens or approach? And How to we get beyond or remove these barriers? So far as Gibran and I can assess it (no doubt incompletely), we have this to offer:

  • Habits and narratives of separation. Mainstream American culture continues to validate the lone ranger, the heroic leader, and more often than not the (white) man with a plan.  As a counter point, embracing more of a “group selection,” diversity-honoring, and network-centric balancing narrative to history could be helpful.  A couple of great resources in this direction are The Global Brain by Howard Bloom and The Hidden Connections by Fritjof Capra.
  • Lack of a big picture mindset. Our mainstream education system, at least in the United States, is sorely lacking in basic grounding in such critical perspectives as systems thinking and eco-literacy.  I am constantly trying to make up for this deficiency on a personal front by absorbing resources from the likes of The Center for Ecoliteracy, Kirwan Institute, and Pegasus Communications.  Each of these has helpful exercises that can be used with groups to help shift perspective.  
  • Our egos want validation . . . and sometimes at the expense of collective well-being.  Mindfulness practice is a wonderful resource for loosening our grip a bit on knee-jerk and self-centered tendencies.  Various wisdom traditions have long worked to temper our sometimes voracious egos through contemplative practice, and more contemporary resources that help in this direction include the work of Daniel Siegel on what we calls “mindsight.”  From a facilitator’s or convenor’s practice, repeating the message that we are all in this together and that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole can help.  A few other tips can be found here.
  • Lack of desire. It can be hard to turn away from what we think others want of us to what drives us deep down.  As Gibran mentioned in the webinar, authentic desire can be a powerful driver of collective leadership when it is expressed and joined. We’ve engaged in coaching with others where we have simply asked the question of one another, “What do you want?” over and over again and seen the layers of “I don’t knows” and “shoulds” melt away.  And the wonderful practitioners at the Center for Whole Communities have demonstrated the power of story-based techniques to reveal what we most value in our lives, even when we cannot explicitly name it.
  • Negativity. Readers of our blog know that I have found the work of psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and her proteges around “positivity” very compelling and resonant. Their research shows how we can limit our ability to see systemically, accept and work with others, and discover new possibilities, when our overarching approach is fraught with negative emotion.  Her research partner Marcial Losada has even statistically found a tipping point for group innovation and flourishing in a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences.  Negativity certainly does serve us, but in moderation.  More on this can be found here
  • Structures that impede or limit collective approaches. By structure we mean institutional arrangements and social processes that privilege certain ways of being and doing.  Examples of limiting forms include silos within organizations, hub-and-spoke communication forms, “talking heads”/only presenting/talking at, etc.  Antidotes to these include bringing down walls (literally and figuratively), knitting what is otherwise the periphery so that it can communicate with itself and the rest of the network, and creating space for open self-directed dialogue, all of which speaks to what can sometimes emerge as a barrier in . . .
  • Lack of skill. There are some key competencies that can certainly help to create and support new structures, including process design and facilitation, hosting, convening, curating (content) and network weaving.  Resources for developing and honing these can be found at the Interaction Institute for Social Change (see our training schedule, including our upcoming Facilitative Leadership, Pathway to Change, and Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work sessions), Berkana Institute (The Art of Hosting), Center for Whole Communities (see Whole Thinking and Whole Measures), and Netcentric Campaigns, to name a few.

Certainly there is much more to discover as we continue to explore new frontiers and possibilities of collective intelligence and action.  Thanks again to the Leadership Learning Community for this opportunity and we look forward to continued conversation!

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