The Art of Collaborative Leadership

Submitted by vanessa reid on August 3, 2011 - 12:58am
getting real, not getting it right

Over the weekend of June 9-12, 2011 a group of twenty-six social innovators and change agents from the UK, Europe, Middle East, Canada came together to explore the Art of Collaborative Leadership.  We stayed at West Lexham, itself an ambitious, innovative model for rural social enterprise, a hub for community renewal and the homeplace of the founder and his family.  And together we asked, What is the leadership needed to envision and host the fundamental systemic changes we seek for a sustainable future?

Initiated by the Hara Practice Collaborative, of which I am a member, in partnership with the Finance Innovation Lab and Tasting the Future, this was an incredible opportunity to take a deep dive into what we have been learning together in this collaborative work - and to invite others to learn with us.

We have been in partnership with Finance Lab for 2 years and with Tasting the Future for over one year.  These are ambitious initiatives to shift the financial and food systems so that they sustain both people and planet. Through all our discoveries and ups and downs, these two practice grounds have offered us incredible learning, challenges and successes around working collaboratively, with social innovation, with people and ideas, with systemic thinking and systemic practice.

What was so special and how did we work? 

Well, we practiced what we have been learning.  We created a flow for the 3 days in which we offered an experience of the wide range of methodologies for experiential and conceptual learning that we are bringing to the Lab and TtF themselves. We used conversational technologies, Open Space, Circle practice, and other ways of collecting our intelligence.  We offered perspectives and teaches, harvesting, case studies.  Equally important were the "modalities" of living a slice of together - eating, singing and storytelling, drama, yoga, walking the land and letting the power of the place inform us. In other words, we worked with both the visible and the invisible intelligences available to us.

As a result, we explored the forms of relationship, organizing patterns, conceptual models, hands-on practices and processes that we believe catalyse and support systemic shifts in ourselves and the systems around us that we wish to influence. We shared real-time projects, including the learning from our work together these past 2 years in the Lab and Tasting the Future, but also from nascent seedling projects to the real-time organizing in the revolution in Greece.  A moving moment was our skype conversation and Q&A with Odysseas, a 26-year old who was in the midst of his work with the self-organizing and systemic shift happening in Greece's Syndagma Square.

More than a training or a workshop, it was a participatory inquiry into the diversity of all of the participants’ experiences, projects and movements.

“This experience was deeply inspiring. It made me challenge a lot of my assumptions, made me realise a lot of things I underestimated, and a lot more things I did not know. I have discovered the power of empathy, genuine interest and care for people, humbleness in front of complex problems. It has opened a door on a universe I now want to explore more,” offered participant, and Finance Innovation Lab member, Maxime Le Foch.

Here is a bit more of what we lived and discovered together:

We need to be prepared to transform ourselves. Hosting this work changes us from the inside out - and the deeper we go with our own transformation - the deeper and wider we can hold systemic transformation.

Systemic transformation is about depth and relationship.  The level of relationship we have with ourselves and with one another in our core teams will determine the depth of, and level of complexity, we can work with “out there.” Cultivating core teams that operate from a deep level of commitment and intimacy can hold the depth and breadth needed for wider transformation.

Structures and processes create pathways for change.  Transforming human systems needs process architecture and design that focuses on convening people and creating a minimal/optimal structure that cannot ensure specific outcomes but invokes the highest impact possible.

The capacity to learn together is essential.  Learning is a core capacity for any kind of sustained systemic change - if we are not learning, we are not changing so cultivating learning and practice grounds for successes and failures.

What we really saw was that being together with our deepest questions, our vulnerabilities, our open hearts gets us to what is really real in our work, and in our lives. Truly getting to the heart of the matter allows us to lead from a very, very powerful place.  To keep learning to be real with what is important to us, what frightens us, what ignites us is the key to collaboration. The question is not "what can i get from this", but rather, who can we become by really showing up to deeply serve the need that is there?

Click here to read more on the Art of Collaborative Leadership invitation