Initiate & everyone leads

To initiate means: 1) to begin, to set in action; 2) to instruct in the rudiments or principles of something.
To lead means: 1) to go before, or with, to show the way; 2) to conduct by holding and guiding; 3) to influence, induce, or cause; 4) to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.

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. 


Who creates the vision?

In Learning to Lead, leadership guru Warren Bennis claimed there are four competencies of leadership.

  1. Mastering the context.
  2. Knowing yourself.
  3. Creating a powerful vision.
  4. 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.




The people will rise. Let’s pray and act for nonviolent change

Everyone leads!  When we join forces and collectively act with love and justice in our hearts, we can reclaim our power.  We are the leaders we have been waiting for.  We cannot look to heroic solitary leaders to lead us into a future where power is shared rather than used to oppress, suppress, and violate human rights.

Moral Monday nonviolent demonstration in Raleigh, North Carolina

One Billion Rising around the globe to stop violence against women

Clergy lead nonviolent march in Ferguson