In Learning to Lead, leadership guru Warren Bennis claimed there are four competencies of leadership.
- Mastering the context.
- Knowing yourself.
- Creating a powerful vision.
- Communicating with meaning.
Although all four of these competencies have a different flavor for CoLeaders than traditional leaders, the one that I find most challenging is creating a powerful vision. This assumes a top-down approach to leadership and followership. I sense that one element of the crisis of leadership and followership is this self-centered approach.
The culture is changing.
Take President Obama for example. In 2008 masses of young people rallied to support his candidacy in part because of his message, “Change we can believe in.” His book, The Audacity of Hope, also inspired people. Obama’s vision was broad and bold. His followers wanted to hope that things would change. But did they?
I try not to criticize any singular human being, especially someone serving as The President of the United States. President Obama made promises that the political system did not allow him to keep. He has been transformed by the personal responsibility he has borne as President.
However, has Obama really changed much of anything in our culture? Yes, the economy has recovered (in some ways). The rich got richer. The bankers benefitted the most. Democracy is even more threatened than it was before 2008. Voting rights are more restrictive. Women’s’ reproductive freedoms have lost ground in many parts of our country. Racism is more visible.
What happened to the millions of young people who joined the Obama for President movement? Did some of them end up joining the occupy Wall Street movement? Will they vote for the next Democrat candidate?
Will they vote for Hillary Clinton? Personally, I doubt it. They may not vote at all.
In the past eight years a growing minority of our culture has become increasingly cynical about leaders, politics, and institutions. How do we shift this cynicism into activism?
In the past, I have been the leader effectively casting a vision for others to follow. I learned valuable lessons. If I have positional power and cast a vision, even if people follow that vision, it is only effective as long as I succeed as the leader. As someone who disrupts and undermines hierarchies, I cannot count on maintaining positional authority. Those who have power over me replace me because I threaten the hierarchy. The next person in the position does not sustain my vision – they cast their own vision.
I am certain other leaders will continue to cast their own vision and expect others to follow. This style of leadership may continue to dominate our culture for the remainder of my lifetime. I hope this is not the case.
I recommend that people with an interest in transforming organizations or systems read, The Three Laws of Performance. Although the book focuses primarily on transforming organizations and contexts, it is also an excellent book for people interested in collaborative leadership.
The Three Laws of Performance also has three leadership corollaries. One is particularly pertinent to a conversation about vision. “Leaders listen for the future of their organization.” This flips the conventional wisdom about leadership and vision upside down. Leaders don’t cast the vision. Leaders don’t create the future of their organization. Leaders listen.
What conventional wisdom teaches – leaders must create and then cast the vision – is outdated and ineffective.
What if the world really needs a good listening to? What if people inside any organization have a great deal to contribute to the future of the organization? What if collective leadership is the best way to deal with a complex, volatile, and uncertain world?
CoLeaders listen for the future. We believe that the future can be better than the present. Yet, CoLeaders are not so arrogant that they think their vision is the only answer to the needs of the world (or even our family, workplace, or community needs).
We are each just one piece in a giant puzzle that can create a more beautiful, just, compassionate, peaceful, and sustainable world. I am just one piece. I do not have the complete picture.
Our CoLeader Connection is a place where we can bring our small pieces of the global vision together. Together we will listen for a more beautiful and compassionate future.
Feel free to share your piece of the vision in the comments.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Our CoLeader connection is forming. Our vision is: together we can change the world. We are the proverbial group of thoughtful committed citizens. We are building a social network, or community of practice. We are redefining the language of leadership while we transform our culture of leadership.
Much has been written about the decline in our social fabric (also called social capital). I would like to focus on social networks and the emerging CoLeadership culture.
Most of our options for belonging to groups include fitting into some form of hierarchy. Even our social clubs tend to elect officers, board members, and concentrate decision making in the hands of a few elite members. Too often we are faced with a dilemma; belong to the group and fit into the existing rankings of power and privilege, or exercise our freedom and engage in activism without completely meeting our human need to belong. This was my experience when I attempted to be a social activist and transformative CoLeader within the hierarchical system of the United Methodist Church.
Sociologist and psychologists have demonstrated human beings have a strong need to belong (Freud, Adler, Jung, Maslow, Putnam, Baumeister, Leary, and too many others to list). Social activists also have a need to belong. However, our need may exhibit itself in slightly different ways. We have a desire to be a part of something transformative and expansive – larger than our own efforts.
Scholars distinguish two types of social capital – bonding social capital, and bridging social capital. One of the negative aspects of social bonding is that it tends to create an “us versus them” mindset within the group. Social activists often have to work against the negative insular effects of social bonding. Bridging social networks possess the power to influence social change. Bonding organizations tend to insulate ‘like-minded’ people from social change.
Our CoLeader community can meet this need to belong to something much larger and more powerful than our insular groups. When we assemble activists, rebels, and CoLeaders from many geographic locations and many different organizations committed to changing the world, we are creating bridging social fabric (multiplied)!
Margaret Mead’s famous quote is really only the beginning of the story. Small groups of thoughtful committed CoLeader/Citizens change the world only when they become catalysts attracting and inspiring other CoLeader/Citizens to join and then work collaboratively. A small group cannot change the world unless they generate a movement. Our CoLeader Connection is the place where movement builders belong.
Please visit Our CoLeader Connection and join us on the journey.
At the heart of the crisis of leadership and followership is the underlying crisis in trust. Less than one in five people believe their leaders (in business or government) will tell the truth especially about challenging issues.[i] How can we possibly overcome the challenges facing us globally and locally without trust?
One interesting factor discovered in studies of trust is that there is a paradigm shift going on; we are twice as likely to trust our peers, as we are anyone we perceive as a positional leader. This is an even stronger generational trend (younger generations trust their peers more than Baby Boomers).
This trend confirms my belief that the culture of leadership is shifting towards shared leadership. Another interesting trend is that small businesses and smaller organizations are trusted more than large corporations or institutions.
One of the challenges facing Our CoLeader Connection is repairing trust in the activities needed to lead others towards a shared vision and purpose. The Occupy movement was an example of the challenge in organizing a nonviolent movement for economic justice generated by people who rebel against any form of positional leadership. Is that sustainable?
I believe we have considerable work to do before everyone has the capacity to lead. Our families, educational system, and workplaces are not educating and developing people to claim their personal power to change these very systems… they are focused more on shaping conformity to existing systems and institutions.
In addition, research into stages of human development indicates there is a need for vertical development. Vertical development refers to an evolution or transformation in an individual’s mindset. The outcome of vertical development or transformative learning is the ability to think in increasingly interdependent, integrated, complex, systemic, and strategic ways.
Looking back on my own development through the transformations of my ‘self’ as a leader, I understand the ways I use my personal power have changed. I may have valued shared power earlier in my journey, but I have only recently developed the ability to assess complex power differentials (and complex rankism). I understand the diverse mindsets that shape how individuals exercise power. I understand how our experiences and our heredity shape our consciousness. I am more able to adapt and be flexible in my own use of power. I finally feel that I have the capacity to engage in CoLeading and Shared leadership.
How could a CoLeader community of practice accelerate the vertical development or personal transformations that are needed to truly change our culture of organizing human effort for shared purposes?
My hope is that we are becoming a catalyst (accelerator) and alchemist (blending diversity) – a community of practice capable of being a powerful force for cultural transformation.