My personal co-leadership philosophy

pacifica beachAs I write this post, I am on the beach in Pacifica, California. I am here to participate in my fourth California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) Transformative Leadership intensive (retreat). This program  has been beneficial for my personal transformation. It has helped me to identify and articulate my personal philosophy for leading. Although I have been a “leader”, I now consider myself to be a co-leader. I will exercise my ability to lead when the context, situation, and people need me to lead. The following is a philosophy statement that helps to explain my insistence on shifting my ways of being to show up as a co-leader rather than a “leader” (as defined by the dominant culture).

Leading is:

  • For everyone. There are no genuine leaders without willing followers. The true sign of a leader is their ability to create contexts wherein others are able to use their leadership abilities.
  • Chaotic and complex. The world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Leaders have a role to guide and lead people through chaos and complexity. To lead is to become comfortable acting without certainty. To lead is to embrace the creative possibilities of chaos.
  • Contextual and provisional. Although positional authority is often necessary to organize human endeavors, it is always important to acknowledge that commanding people is not leadership it is dominance. Genuine leadership is granted by the people being lead or organized. Positional leadership is granted in order to accomplish shared goals, or in response to a shared vision (a context). When positional power is abused, people will replace their leaders, or they will refuse to be influenced by, or follow, those with power.
  • Emergent and divergent. The ability to lead rises out of the passion and commitments of people. Leadership naturally emerges from within groups of people. Everyone has an innate ability to lead. When the context is ripe, when enough people are passionate about making a difference or changing something, leaders emerge to organize human efforts. If there is a vacuum in leadership, a leader will emerge. Leadership is also divergent. There is no right way or wrong way, no single style, no clearly defined traits or attributes of those who lead. Leaders can lead people towards destructive actions or positive constructive actions.
  • Relational, dynamic, and perichoretic. One can be commanding and controlling without being in love with people, but one cannot be a genuine leader without knowing how to form and sustain dynamic relationships. To be perichoretic (borrowed from Christian Trinitarian theology) is to be engaged in dynamic relationships that allow the unique individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that the group of people also share their lives (diversity in unity). That leading is perichoretic means a community of being is created through the act of leading. There is no separation and yet there is diversity.
  • Mysterious and mythical. There is something in human nature that creates legends and myths. Leadership rises out of mythical ways of knowing. Leading is not always logical or sensible. It is important to acknowledge the limits of our conscious thoughts, and to welcome the wisdom of our subconscious. Growing as a leader is a process of many transformations in consciousness. In the higher levels of human development, we are less attached to our ego and basic survival needs, and more concerned about the well being of all creation.

What is leadership to you?  How do you lead?  Do you prefer to follow, or to lead?  Do you have a philosophy of leading, or leadership?  Please share your comments.


Evolving beyond ‘pack animals’ (part two)

Jonathan Haidt wrote about the hivishness (or ‘pack animal’ nature) of human beings in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. My opinion of this book is mixed, yet Haidt’s work provides a useful perspective for understanding why conservatives and liberals have polarized mindsets.  Haidt identified six moral foundations and two of the six shed light on my questions about our need for hierarchies of authority.
1.     Liberty/oppression: the loathing of abusive authority or tyranny.
2.     Authority/subversion: respect for, and obeying authority.

To keep it brief (at the risk of oversimplification), conservatives tend to value authority over liberty – liberals value liberty over authority.  Some humans strongly prefer hierarchies, and some resist authority and prefer freedom and liberty.  In reality, these two moral foundations are balanced and integrated differently in different people.  For example: Libertarians prefer freedom from authority; many are not capable of genuine co-leadership because they will not share power.  In order to be an effective co-leader and collaborator, one needs to be willing and able to follow as well as lead, one needs to respect other co-leaders.

Haidt’s academic area is evolutionary moral psychology.  His research demonstrated that people inherit much of their moral foundation.  Humanity has evolved; as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. We learned not only to dominate but also to cooperate.  Domination and hierarchical forms of authority have heavily influenced some cultures and families; others have learned to value freedom, liberty, and shared power.  That is one reason we are so divided.

Some people have evolved beyond their need for a dominant alpha pack leader, some have not.

I am not sure how authority/liberty moral foundations and Haidt’s concepts of conservative and liberal correlate to this week’s partisan politics.  The Republicans could not choose one leader to deliver their response to the President’s State of the Union address; there were five responses.  What does this say about obedience to authority from conservatives?

Both political parties are divided, but the conservatives (Republicans) seem to be increasingly influenced by a libertarian energy – no government, no authority granted to positional leaders.  At the same time they are clinging to sexism, racism, and rankism.

Most of Haidt’s research for The Righteous Mind predated the emergence of the Tea Party.  The emergence of the Tea Party comes with a simultaneous anti-authoritarian, libertarian, and patriarchal energy.  Is this simply a complex push-back response to the paradigm shift in our leadership culture?  Is it a sign that even the conservatives are beginning to abandon their need for authoritarian leaders?

Please share your thoughts.

MLK, Leadership, and Nonviolence (part two)

Would Rev. Dr. Martin Luther MLK, Jr. prefer that we celebrate his heroic leadership, or that we continue to work to end racism and all forms of economic and social injustice? Would he prefer a day named after him, or a day set aside for nonviolence and justice?

We should be uncomfortable with many of the celebrations held on MLK Day.  We should be uncomfortable with events that fail to acknowledge the complexity of the movements – civil rights, economic justice, and nonviolence (peace with justice).  We should acknowledge that MLK was a leading spokesperson for a huge movement.  We should recognize those too often nameless other leaders who risked their lives and worked for civil rights.

There are far too many myths about MLK that depict him as the sole heroic leader (The Great Man) of the movement. Many of the myths emphasize the individual at the expense of the leader-full movement. MLK was often a reluctant leader.  As one of the most visible voices of the movement, his life was nearly always at risk.  Others in the civil rights movement saw MLK as one among many “outstanding movement strategists, tacticians, ideologues, and institutional leaders” (

MLK was one of the strongest advocates for nonviolence within the movement.  Nonviolent social change takes discipline and training, and multiple layers of leadership.  Scholars have examined the black struggle as a locally based mass movement.  Sustained protest movements arose in many southern communities in which MLK had little or no direct involvement.  MLK might prefer that this day be National Civil Rights Day, or National Nonviolence Day.

Since the first MLK Day in 1986, our understanding of leadership and the civil rights movement has evolved.  The success of the black movement came from the mobilization of hundreds or even thousands of community leaders (both black and white).  Scholars also recognize the extent to which the movement was transformed through the masses, a bottom up transformation not just the influence of a solitary heroic leader.

It leaves me pondering a few questions.

How would the complex nonviolent movement for civil rights have progressed if historians had not placed so much emphasis on MLK as THE heroic leader?  Perhaps, a greater acknowledgement of the leader-full nature of the movement may have helped to maintain the movement’s momentum.

Is it easier to suppress a movement if we strike down the solitary heroic leader?  I suspect that is the case.  I also wonder if there are lessons to be learned by examining how the civil rights movement fared after MLK’s assassination, or even after a holiday was named in his honor.

And one last question:  What did MLK want to be remembered for?

Here is a link to an excellent article about MLK that helps to answer that question.



When he suggested his own epitaph, he asked not to be remembered for his exceptional achievements–his Nobel Prize and other awards, his academic accomplishments; instead, he wanted to be remembered for giving his life to serve others, for trying to be right on the war question, for trying to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, for trying to love and serve humanity. “I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.” Those aspects of MLK’s life did not require charisma or other superhuman abilities.

If MLK were alive today, he would doubtless encourage those who celebrate his life to recognize their responsibility to struggle as he did for a more just and peaceful world. He would prefer that the black movement be remembered not only as the scene of his own achievements, but also as a setting that brought out extraordinary qualities in many people. If he were to return, his oratory would be unsettling and intellectually challenging rather than remembered diction and cadences. He would probably be the unpopular social critic he was on the eve of the Poor People’s Campaign rather than the object of national homage he became after his death. His basic message would be the same as it was when he was alive, for he did not bend with the changing political winds. He would talk of ending poverty and war and of building a just social order that would avoid the pitfalls of competitive capitalism and repressive communism. He would give scant comfort to those who condition their activism upon the appearance of another MLK, for he recognized the extent to which he was a product of the movement that called him to leadership.


A New Metaphor for Leadership

I wrote this poem to illustrate a metaphor for an eco-egalitarian style of co-leadership.  Since my ideas about leadership have been heavily influenced by my experience as a Christian, it is also a metaphor for spiritual leadership and a spiritual community.


Our Garden
by Robyn Morrison

We kneel, rubbing the moist dark soil in
our weathered hands.  Earth is our source.

Enriched by life composted from seasons past.
The days are warmer.
The time for sowing seeds has come.

We turn the soil (once, twice)
noticing earth worms, uncovering potential,
bringing life giving air to what was beneath.

Rows, patches, mounds, pots —
Wondering what each plant needs;
where each will thrive.

Then — down into the soil seeds are sown.

Patience now. God is our partner.

Only God knows how to release the potential in each seed.

The Garden gathers what she needs;
crawling creatures, winged things,
winds gentle and strong, life giving water,
sunlight, people.

There are structures in our Garden that endure;
apple trees, currant bushes.
Others stay for many years;
rhubarb, asparagus.
The colorful ones come and go, here for a season, then
thrown into the compost bin.

The Garden sustains life.  She feeds us.
In return we, the Garden and her gardeners,
cultivate and tend all who gather in her midst.

Year after year;
kneeling, sowing, tending, harvesting, composting.

From soil to soil.  Life goes on.

It’s about money and power

Watch Elizabeth Warren School the Senate on the Keystone XL Pipeline: ‘It’s About Money and Power’

The puzzling aspect of Keystone XL is the public support.  Although public support has been declining, polls seem to indicate that the majority of the public support building the pipeline.

The truth is that there is a great deal of misinformation (or lies) about the pipeline.  I certainly don’t know the TRUTH – if there is a truth.  However, here is a link to a source that I frequently check when I suspect that the two sides to an issue are both spinning the truth ( or lying). has an article with factual information.  Check it out.  It is always wise to seek independent sources on hot political issues.

The conflict over Keystone XL is about money and power – but so are most of our political conflicts.

My opinions:

  • I would not want the Keystone XL pipeline to run through my land, my town, or anywhere near anyone that I care about…  There have been a few horrible leaks/spills with devastating consequences to land and water.
  • I live in a community (and grew up in a small town) with railroad tracks running right through town.  Although I oppose the pipeline, I don’t want the tar sands oil shipped by train through Helena.  I worry about the risk of explosions and fires.
  • I also don’t want to be on a highway with the equipment to extract the tar sands, or with oil tankers.  Imagine a multiple car accident and explosion – a nightmare.
  • I would not want my son, daughter, husband, or anyone I loved and cared about to work in the fracking or tar sands industry…  We do not know for sure the long term health impact, but we can recall the deaths and suffering caused by other industrial pollutants (coal dust, asbestos/vermiculite…)

These are all my selfish concerns.

My hopes are for clean energy and clean energy jobs.  I hope we can transform our dependence on fossil fuels in time to save the planet for my grandchildren.  Keystone XL does not deliver on my hopes and dreams.

I really do not understand public opinion on this one.








Leading from the Fringe: Part five

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.

Leading from the Fringe: Part three

Timing is important, very important (Kellerman, 2010, 165).

Why now?  After resisting the desire to be a writer, why should I start writing this blog now?  The recognition that other women (and marginalized people) have found writing to be a tool for influencing people helped me to recognize the connection between my many attempts to exercise collaborative leadership and my nagging desire to write. 

Authentic leadership emerges from a leader’s lived experience, it is contextual.  For the past five years I have felt the impact of my choice to refuse to submit to an abusive religious authority.  I made a practical choice, to pursue a legitimate path into spiritual power (to be a professional Minister), a career with a salary and benefits, and that choice led to a dead end.

When the religious hierarchy pushed me out of my positional leadership role as a Pastor, I found myself under-employed and floundering in the depth of the economic crisis of 2009-2010. I had lost my spiritual path, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I still felt called to be a spiritual leader, to be a source of hope for the hopeless and oppressed.  There was an abundance of need and I had accumulated experience, education, and the skills to help people who had been displaced by the economic crisis. 

The world was shifting — the power and wealth was getting more and more concentrated in the hands of a few.  Our elected leaders bailed out the big banks and financial institutions and left the unemployed struggling to pay their mortgages.  Nonprofits and religious organizations were reeling from the economic crisis.  Foundations cut back their giving.  Middle class donors (more generous than the wealthy) were unable to give. 

It was a humbling time for me.  I was in Oregon and at that time one of five Oregon workers was jobless or underemployed.  The religious hierarchy blocked my attempts to create a new ministry to serve those who were displaced by the economic crisis.  I had no salary, benefits, or career track.  For the first time in my life, I felt like a nobody, so I moved back home to nowhere Montana.

In Montana, I was able to connect with meaningful work as an Executive Director for a couple of nonprofit organizations.  However, I was not using my communication gifts.  I was not speaking in public or writing, I was mostly an administrator.  I was doing what I needed to do to survive, and my continuing commitment to developing egalitarian leaders caused me to search for a connection.  I found that connection through the California Institute of Integral Studies — Masters of Arts in Transformative Leadership program.

(Continued in part four).

Leading from the fringes: Part two

[They] tied the trials and tribulations of individuals to the trials and tribulations of the society within which they were embedded (Kellerman, 2010, 157).

My personal experiences – my trials and tribulations – speak to a larger collective experience of suffering and struggle. In December 2007, as part of a United Methodist women’s spiritual leadership exchange, I traveled to El Salvador and Honduras. Afterward, I wrote and published an essay about one day on that journey. 

The day began at our Five Star Princess Hotel.  As we gathered to load into the van, I watched mostly men (and very few women) in very expensive tailored dark suits, starched white shirts, and neckties as they gathered in the lobby of the hotel’s convention hall.  It was a meeting of the World Bank and IMF with El Salvadoran elected officials.  Within thirty minutes of leaving the convention center, our women’s leadership group was at the site where Arch Bishop Oscar Romero (the Pastor of the impoverished landless peasants) was murdered in 1980.  The murder of Romero created a huge uprising and a full scale civil war that lasted for twelve years. 

The experience of being confronted with the impact of colonization and globalization on the poor people of Latin America left an indelible mark on my soul.  I was able to identify the shared challenges of rural communities in Montana (negatively impacted by multi-national corporations) and Latin America. 

Then in January 2008, I participated in another faculty and student leadership exchange with religious leaders in Uganda and Rwanda.  Again, I saw first hand evidence that Christian missionaries were complicit in creating violence between African tribes.  The process of colonization included creating false racial hierarchies — as in the Hutus and Tutsis.  The Colonizers found it necessary to rank the indigenous people into hierarchies.  They used these imposed rankings or hierarchies so that an elite minority group of privileged Africans were oppressing other Africans.  In a sense, they replicated their European class system.

I also saw the effects of crop ‘mono-cultures’ designed to efficiently replace native subsistence crops with profitable crops like coffee and sugar.  Tribal people were forced off their land, and the land is now controlled by huge multi-national agricultural conglomerates.  Starving people were surrounded by abundant fertile land that produced sugar and coffee for wealthy foreigners.  Montana has also experienced a decline in the number of family owned and operated farms, with many of the Federal farm subsidies going to the multi-national agricultural corporations. 

I discovered the need for more effective leadership was global, not just a personal experience.

One ancient model of collaborative leadership formation

Jesus has been a model of conscious compassionate and collaborative leadership for more than two thousand years. However, this model is not the predominant model within Christianity today.

By the time the movement aligned itself with the power of the Roman Empire, the compassionate egalitarian communities were either destroyed or relegated to the fringes (monastics and cloistered religious orders).  Jesus emerged as a spiritual leader in the later part of the Axial age.  According to Armstong, the essence of Axial Age was the disciplined practice of compassion, an emphasis on inner consciousness.  There was a revolution and transformation in what it meant to be human, in our ability to extend compassion beyond our immediate tribe.

Jesus used a parabolic style of teaching designed to transform rather than inform.  The developmental level of his followers was primarily a mythic worldview.  Jim Marion (2000) argued that Jesus had attained the highest level of human development, that of non dual consciousness, and that it was from this perspective that Jesus looked out upon the world.  What he saw was a reality hidden from the view of most of his contemporaries, one in which God and humanity were one, one which he frequently described as the Kingdom of God.

Jesus understood that no progress toward the kingdom could be achieved without first turning inward, away from the imperatives of dominant social convention and society.  Developmental learning was something that ‘happens within’ (Spear, 2005).  Jesus used parables and stories to facilitate transformative learning.  He used questions to engage his audience and to question uncritically assimilated cultural and social beliefs.

The commitment Jesus had to developing a non-hierarchical movement was also counter-cultural.  Jesus promulgated “new values, new assumptions, new strategies for social and personal transformation” (Wink, 1992, 135).  Jesus’ listeners were held captive by their mindsets and worldviews as much as they were by their Roman Empire and Jewish religious authorities.  Hierarchies inevitably evolve in cultures with the predominantly mythical worldview that was dominant in the time of Jesus.  Transforming perspectives, mindsets, and worldviews, is a liberating developmental process.

It may be tempting to judge Jesus’ transformative leadership development and teaching style as ancient and no longer applicable.  Although times were different, some aspects of human nature are also the same.  The Jesus movement developed in an age of increasing violence, resistance to power, and chaos.  An old order was fading away leaving space for transformation with a range of possible outcomes: a more compassionate and enlightened humanity — or the apocalypse.

We are still captive to a hierarchical leadership culture, one that is deeply enculturated albeit ineffective.  Informative teaching strategies are no more effective in transforming mindsets and worldviews of leaders, or potential leaders, now than they were 2000 years ago.

From the margins and fringes of our culture, new systems of developing the human capacity to lead are emerging.  There are a number of pioneering approaches to leading and organizing people to transform communities, and the world.  They have abandoned outdated practices of rigid hierarchies, concentrated authoritarian power, and institutions/bureaucracies.

They model communities of practice; people who engage in a process of collective learning, in a shared domain of human endeavor.   Communities of practice are not new but they have evolved as human consciousness as evolved.  They are communities with distributed leading, collaborative creativity, and compassion (for each other and for a shared purpose).

If you are interested in being a part of this kind of community of practice, please join Our Co-leader Community.  Join Here

Beyond the leader-follower dichotomy

We live in an age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.  We will not transcend the challenges of this world with the type of leaders or the leadership development strategies that led us here.  New methods are being developed to improve and expand our collective leadership capacity.  We are beginning to transcend the false and hierarchical dichotomy where the people at the top of the power pyramid are leaders, and the rest of the pyramid are expected to be followers.  We need to scale cultural and social transformation in rapid and high impact ways. We are facing the end of leadership and follower-ship and the emergence of ‘everyone leads.’

The reality of human experience is that we all lead, from time to time.  When we recognize that there is something inherent in human nature to lead, new opportunities for collective action become available.  History has been dominated by cultures of leadership that divide and rank human beings into leaders and followers.  Traditionally leadership has been associated with hierarchies and power over others.  But power is not confined to people with positions at the top of the power pyramids. Everyone has power.  The “end of leadership” (Kellerman, 2012) coincides with the emergence of democracy and the evolution of human development.  Power imbalances contribute to many of the wicked problems facing our world.  The end of authoritarian forms of leadership are, and will be, creating space for the emergence of new mindsets about leading and following.

The leadership development that we seek (where everyone leads) is emerging through trans-disciplinary explorations that include: the stages of human development, stages of spiritual transformation or consciousness, evolutionary psychology, theories of transformative education, neuroscience, and ancient transformative disciplines such as alchemy.  The next level of transformation in developing our collective capacity to lead social change is integral; weaving intellect and spirit, reasoning and intuition, secular and sacred, and individual and collective practices.

Robyn Morrison provides co-leadership development services to individuals and organizations.  She has developed tools and programs to catalyze the leadership potential throughout a work team or movement.  Contact Robyn for more information if you are looking to create a highly engaged and empowered team or movement.

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