A Radical Perspective on Leadership

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I often tell my team at the Children’s Creativity Museum that everyone is a leader, and although my own personal leadership style continues to evolve to live up to this ideal, I know that my leadership is strongest when I rely on the wisdom of my team.

How we think about leadership shapes how we approach its presence and development in our lives. Behind our predominant economic model and our political structure is the very tricky idea that for there to be leaders, there have to be followers. A divide is created between those who are so-called “followers” and those who lead. An assumption is made about the capacity of others to make a difference.

How would we approach our leadership development differently if we came from the place that every single person has a contribution to make to the improvement of this world?

Rather than people being the cogs in the business machine, what if instead they each play a critical part in finding the best possible solution given the resource constraints?

 

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On Using Change to Access Transformation

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In many ways, being an effective leader involves being able to dance with change. This is difficult when the predominant stereotype of the strong leader is one who is a bulwark against change: A strong and effective leader is one who controls such that changes are minimized, if not eliminated.

The problem is that that is not reality. Change is reality. Change is what happens, regardless of what a leader chooses to do. The best that s/he can do it to adapt to change in every moment, to roll with the proverbial punches.

Thus, a crucial and necessary stepping stone in the leadership development journey is to transform our relationship to change. We must embrace that change cannot be managed out but rather can be the access to transformation.

A mantra, or set of aspirational statements, which I’ve been practicing the past few weeks is below:

Change is an inevitable part of life.

May I be kind to whatever feelings come up.

May I stay anchored in this moment.

A Powerful Context for Leadership Development

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Much of the contemporary leadership development literature is framed in dichotomies: Either, you are an effective leader; or you’re not. Either, you’re skilled at something, or you’re not. … There’s very little room for gradations. As such, we relate to ourselves in very stark terms, when in fact, as human beings, our lives are anything but black and white.

It’s not that I am not the kind of leader that I aspire to be. Rather, the potential for leadership is continually unfolding and finding expression through me. I am already the leader that I wish to be, and it is a matter of degree to which where I am right now aligns with that aspiration.

What would it be like if let go of “being the way we want” or “not being the way we want” and gave ourselves permission to own where we are right now in our journey of evolution? What difference would it make for us to relax our high standards and to simply acknowledge where we are in this moment?

On One of the Most Sacred Tasks of the Leader

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Leadership occurs in a cultural context. Even if a leader is the most dynamic and inspiring person an organization has known, s/he is only as effective as the norms and values of that community or organization will permit. This flies in the face of the myth of the “lone leader,” the person who, through sheer force of will, can compel the organization to march in a certain direction.

Because leadership occurs in the context of a group’s culture, one of the most profound ways in which the leader can serve the group is to help to facilitate healing. No group of people is immune from the individual hurts and traumas in the group. No group of people is exempt from the history that has left the group where it now is.

In this way, the leader is the chief healer. S/he has an opportunity to bring compassion to life within the community. S/he can devote energy to the question:

How might I help bring Wholeness back into this group?

Leadership can become an act of profound collective healing, one that eliminates the things that have held an organization back.

On Creative Leadership

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American culture, corporate hierarchy, and the “entrepreneurship cult” all seem to celebrate the “lone hero” out to save the world. This doesn’t fit nicely with my own experience in collaborative decision-making and community-building, where everyone has a chance to contribute and to have their say.

We seem fixated on the singular CEO or leader to save us with their own special magic bullet. Yet, for most of us, the open-source world is giving rise to a new brand of leadership I call “creative leadership.”

Creative leaders don’t look to impose their one solution on others. Rather, they actively solicit a diversity of perspectives and ideas. They make sure that the “devil’s advocate” has a chance to poke holes in our arguments in order to arrive at a stronger solution.

Creative leaders are not under the delusion that if they build or make it, they will come; they know that they must meet the end-user where they are at. Creative leaders are mindfully and fully accepting of the lived realities of those they seek to help.

Creative leaders are pragmatists: They look for what’s possible in resource constraints, rather than coming up with all the ways that an idea won’t work.

These are what I consider to be the emerging profile of the creative leader. What else would you consider make a creative leader?