“A true Leader is not the one with the most followers, but one who creates the most leaders.”
Neale Donald Walsch
Recently, with a group of Irish coaches, trainers and facilitators, I have begun an enquiry into what it means to be a leader in these challenging times and what the attributes of an effective Change Maker might be.
What does leadership mean? It is generally understood to be a process whereby an individual influences a group to achieve a common goal. If you were to ask most people if they consider themselves a leader, you will probably find that very few do. Most people are uncomfortable with the term and think leaders are people born with extraordinary abilities or are people in positions of power who “tell people what to do.” This concept of the leader as the saviour, the commander or the person at the top of the hierarchy is dominant. Although top-down leadership has its place and the conventional ‘there-can-only-be-one-boss’ style works well is some circumstances, we need to cultivate a different kind of leadership. In a natural system, change never happens as a result of top-down instruction. Leadership is fluid and can come from any direction. So, can you lead without being in charge?
The leadership I want to explore here has nothing to do with position or authority; it is about influence and responsibility, it’s about leadership from below or from within. I want to equate leadership not with being in charge but rather with the ability to inspire initiative and new thinking in those around us. At the core of this approach is the capacity to navigate new paths, build teams and broker between different points of view.
This style of leadership obviously plays a significant role in community resilience. As a key aspect of resilience is the ability to self-organise, a leader in this bottom-up context needs to help people move away from a culture of dependency and become leaders themselves.
Leadership isn’t a solo venture; we change things together. Leaders are effective Change Agents and rarely do things alone, they work with others to get things done. A leader in a community will mobilise, encourage, connect and support people to take action and make a collective difference. This kind of leadership is about creating trust and listening to the needs of the community.
Good leaders are made, not born, which means that we can all develop our ability to be better at leading. The fact is that everyone has the potential to be a leader. Anyone who is playing a part in making positive change happen is exhibiting the qualities of leadership. In these challenging times, what might the qualities of this kind of leadership be? Here are ten attributes that I think are important:
First of all, know yourself. Generally people who undertake a journey of personal understanding and development will be better Change Makers and have the ability to transform not only their own capabilities but also those of their communities. Be observant of limits, both ecological and our own.
2. Personal Resilience
Our ability to cope and adapt to the major challenges we face as individuals and collectively will depend on our own level of resilience. Good health and inner resolve will ensure we are able to stay calm and be effective in difficult times.
Respond to every situation with creativity and passion. Live your values and lead by example. Passion and enthusiasm embedded in action rather than in words will go a lot further to inspire others. Be authentic, it’s about who you are, not what you say. As Gandhi declared, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Even in the face of adversity, leaders must remain optimistic. In the times ahead there is likely to be a lot of fear and pessimism, but to facilitate change and bring others with you, the challenge will be to stay optimistic and confident.
The ability to kindle a shared vision or a common purpose is vital. Leaders are able to help a group articulate a vision and help them take the first steps to achieve it. Although it sounds like a contradiction, the vision should be clear but also fuzzy. It needs to have a clear enough focus to motivate action, as people do not function well in unclear situations, but fuzzy enough to be rethought and adjusted on the journey.
Good leaders don’t fall apart when adversity surfaces, they flow and have the ability to change and adapt continually. Your adaptability and flexibility will demonstrate that you can act in a way that facilitates change.
7. A Helicopter View
We live in a complex living system so we have to be able to see systems at work. Embracing complexity or taking a bigger picture view is essential. Being able to take a whole system perspective is of the highest importance in this form of leadership and understanding our human systems through the lens of living systems is fundamental. Taking an integral perspective on our complex challenges is also crucial. Ken Wilber’s four quadrants development model, which, simply put, shows that any phenomenon can be characterised by its internal and external, as well as its individual and collective aspects, is at the heart of this perspective.
Keep going, take risks, do things differently and don’t be content with the status quo. Stick to your guns and be determined to do what you set out to do. A playful approach can help to keep us open and supports resolve.
Don’t be afraid to take the initiative and engage others in the quest of building community resilience. Understanding the past, the realities of the present and the likely consequence of an action in the future can help us do this.
It is important that a leader-from-within can work with people, and having good communication and listening skills are essential. Leadership emerges through relationships. We need to focus on building association with others and building trust. In these times, it is vital that we break out of our specialist silos of interest and establish partnerships with other groups that are pursuing similar outcomes.
So to conclude, leadership to build resilience is not based on hierarchical principles, this subtle form can involve anybody. New leaders will need to possess the capacity to anticipate risks, be able to persuade others to take action in the face of turbulent change and help create the conditions for people to self-organise. We are unlikely to meet the future effectively with existing perspectives. As Albert Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The journey to resilience will be a challenging one; it is now crucial that we experiment with new forms of organising and leadership. New capacities are required – ones that catalyse new thinking and assist in communicating a new reality to people in ways that they understand. If you are interested in this new form of leadership, join the conversation at cultivateleadership.ning.com
Davie Philip runs the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate, is a resident in the Cloughjordan Ecovillage and is the coordinator of the Irish Transition Towns Network. firstname.lastname@example.org