Most days I don’t feel like a follower or a leader. I feel more like a hermit studying transformative leadership and dabbling in contract work as a consultant, coach, and part time Executive Director. Life is passing me by. All around me, people are resigned and cynical, or they are in denial.
Our elected leaders are failing us — both parties. Our democracy is bought and paid for by dark money and the average citizen is duped by sixty second sound bites and television commercials that are blatant lies. Those with money and power use ‘fear’ to intimidate and divide us. Rankism is rampant, and the less than 1% who pull the strings have the rest of the people pitted against each other.
Some liberals hate conservatives and vice versa. Some working class white people hate immigrants, thinking that they are the cause of their economic woes, not the corporate CEO’s who are milking corporate coffers dry. Some Christians are taught by their clergy to hate people who are different than they are, especially Lesbians, Gays, and Transgender people.
We cannot trust our leaders. The old models of hierarchical leadership are not adequate to topple the power structure because the models depend on rankism as their means of organizing human effort. Professors of Leadership refer to this kind of power as “legitimate” power (as if shared power was not). Revolutions using violence and authoritarian leadership models simply replace one set of despots with new oppressors.
The truth is that everyone possesses power and our personal power is legitimate. Granted we are oppressed in varying degrees. I would never suggest that people who are experiencing abuse and injustice wait for changes to occur. We do not need positional power in order to have influence. We need relational connected collaborative movement power to make the world a better place.
Looking for another generation of heroic charismatic leaders is also not the solution to our problems. Charismatic transformational leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, and others were not able to create sustained movements with networks and layers of effective leadership. The movements floundered after the deaths of the heroes. The heroes had followers but they did not produce sufficient numbers of leaders to maintain the momentum of their movements. The Egyptian uprising and other mass people powered movements, including the Occupy Movement, were not able to produce the networks of leaders and followers that were necessary to sustain their movements for social change.
About a year ago I came across an appealing concept for a new language of leadership: evolutionary co-leadership.
“What if exercising leadership meant: venturing into the unknown, into the void, with openness and trust; sensing what is about to emerge by being present to what is; participating creatively in a wider field of knowing and doing; giving voice and energy to an evolutionary impulse; inviting self and others to cross a threshold and discover new spaces where collective creativity, intelligence, and wisdom can be expressed; and thus enabling access to the leadership potential which exists in each individual?” (Gauthier, 2013)
How do we create this kind of leadership in sufficient quantity and in enough parts of the world so that we can deal with the challenges facing all of us? We cannot look to a handful of leaders to get us to where we need to be in time. It needs to be a mass movement.