Too often we associate leadership and leading with the exercise of power over others through structural authority created by hierarchies. But power is never limited to those on top of an organizational chart. Everyone has real power and people may choose to follow a leader, supervisor, or manager. The authoritarian and heroic leadership mindset may be adequate for managing and solving most technical problems. However, it is a liability when it comes to overcoming complex adaptive challenges.
New models of leading are emerging. The younger generations’ have different expectations about engagement and leadership. Traditional distinctions between leaders and followers are becoming obstacles to solving complex problems.. People are learning to work in highly connected ways, sharing ideas, information, and contacts. People are learning to exercise their power and lead in more distributed, relational, and interdependent ways.
Learning to lead with a network mindset is more complex than acquiring new technical skills or knowledge. Many leadership programs continue to explicitly or implicitly promote the model of heroic, individually centered leadership that undervalues collective or collaborative behaviors. To catalyze social change work in ways that produce major impacts, we need to transform leadership development.
To support an ‘everyone leads’ or collective leadership mindset, we need to cultivate leadership according to the following principles:
- Connecting and weaving. Intentionally introducing and linking people, strengthening their bonds, and building bridges among diverse groups.
- Self-organizing action. People feel authorized to take action.
- Learning that embraces risk-taking. Rapid-cycle prototyping solutions and adaptation.
Leadership Development strategies that work:
- Convening processes that build relationships across boundaries.
- Cultivating and practicing collective action, co-leadership, and a network mindset.
- Questioning and disrupting deeply held leadership assumptions – especially those that promote one person as the leader that others follow.
- Facilitating action learning in groups; encouraging a spirit of experimentation, risk-taking, and accountability.
- Build and invest in communities of learning and practice including online collaborative tools.
- Introduce resources, skills, and tools for leading in complex systems; develop big picture systems thinking including understanding the levers for systemic change.
- Walk the talk. Give up some control in favor of encouraging participants as co-designers of their development experience.
Robyn Morrison is a collective leading development practitioner who initiates, facilitates, and engages diverse people to grow as networked leaders. She is committed to strengthening our collective capacity to create innovative solutions to wicked systemic challenges by engaging everyone in leading.