Can Leadership Be Shared?

My brain hurts.

I’ve just come off a very intense three day think-tank with a small group that included individuals I’ve known and admired for years as well as a number of talented new colleagues.

Incredibly diverse in their thinking, experience and skills, they all came together to help advance an initiative focused on improving the quality of life in communities.

As I was the only one who knew everyone, it was a tad stressful. Going in, I crossed my fingers and hoped they’d all play nice.

Mostly they did.

However there were tense moments along the way and times when our intent to avoid top-down leadership and replace it with something shared across the full team was questioned by everyone in the room - including me.

Although it was sometimes as challenging as nailing jello to the wall, ultimately the team produced some remarkable results. They also reinforced our belief that when you follow the energy and passion in a room – magic happens.

So what did we learn?

We learned to be patient. Of key importance was taking the time to ensure those in the room shared and embraced a collective vision for the initiative. It also meant being patient as each prodded and shaped the original vision in order to embrace it as their own.

One of the participants likened it to poking the baby. Unfortunately, as I was involved in birthing this particular baby, it felt more like they were shaking the baby rather rudely. I had to learn to be a little less sensitive.

As it become more apparent there were a lot of diverse talents in the room, we also learned not only to be more tolerant and respectful of one another but also to truly appreciate our different lenses.

The importance of values also surfaced. Just as a good marriage can reflect very different personalities, it doesn’t flourish unless it’s grounded by similar values. Although our group was definitely about different personalities, we also shared common values. We all care deeply about our communities, recognize the importance of community leadership, and believe the solutions lay in a community development approach.

We were also reminded that a brilliant idea is a brilliant idea regardless of who puts it on the table. Supporting and expanding on an idea even when it was someone else’s, and not caring about who gets credit, led to greater success in the planning. Ultimately it is this approach that will also ensure the success of our initiative because just as in communities themselves, the challenges are way too complicated for any one individual or even one sector to solve by themselves.

And, despite the fact that most of us have been around for a while, we also gained an appreciation of just how much opportunity there would be to learn from one another.

We were able to see that the differences that initially created tension weren’t reasons to separate or to divide but instead were an invitation to learn and grow.
Even things that we thought we knew for sure were rattled by new information and perspectives.

We also learned that this initiative definitely doesn’t need typical top-down leadership. Instead the leadership will be much more about building the group, nurturing strong relationships, holding the big picture of the team’s plan, and making sure it’s implemented.

At the end of three days despite the many action steps that will need to be put into place, the weight of leadership was lightened because it truly was shared.
After all, with such intelligence and experience in the room, no one person would need to be an expert on all the issues. Instead our leadership could focus on encouraging the responsibility, accountability and appropriate engagement of the team members.

We’re calling it the D and D Team. That’s short for dreaming and doing.

Posted on 06-22-08

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