Innovative Leadership: Leaderful Ecosystems – Part II

“In order for movements to succeed, we have to de-center, grow, and redistribute leadership. We need to see our organizations and ourselves in a different way.” – Vincent Pan

In a previous article we discussed the power of leaderful ecosystems.  This is the focus of seeing the larger system and engaging with it so that greater movements of change can happen.  This is similar to how nature prospers and grows because each component connects and depends on each other.

For example, my family grows tomato plants.  A tomato cannot just appear on its own.  It is dependent on the plant to produce it, which also needs the soil, and then rain and even the decomposition of other organisms for nutrients.  In the same way, effective leadership that can influence complex change is not dependent on an individual or even one team, one organization, one region, etc.  It takes a larger system working together.

In the last article, we discussed three key nutrients for this type of innovative leadership based on an article in The Nonprofit Quarterly called, Cultivating Leaderful Ecosystems.  There are also two additional key nutrients that will help your leadership to be more effective.

Leadership Values Multiple Ways of Knowing

There is an organization that I am familiar with that greatly values data and all decisions are made accordingly.  Data is very useful and their system of knowing through data has brought them much success.  But, currently their focus on data is only allowing them to fix symptoms rather than addressing deeper issues that are crippling the company.  They would benefit from also valuing other ways of “knowing” beyond data.

To tap into other ways of knowing, you need to engage in meaningful conversations with others.  This can also mean hearing different perspectives from your own and engaging in healthy conflict.  It can also include learning from experiences, backgrounds and even gut intuition.

To access this level of leadership, you must build trusting relationships.  You also need to go beyond the normal people you talk to.  I know one NPO leader who regularly has lunch with another NPO whose views and values contrast deeply from his.  They have a similar mission but very different ways of achieving it.  It is not that he will change his values, but that he sees the other leader as a person too.  Someone that he can listen and gain insight from their perspective.

Leadership that Creates Space for Inner Work

Any complex challenge and change can take its toll on us.  It requires perseverance and full engagement of who we are.  We need to be sustainable.  When your body is exposed to extreme cold, it will divert heat and energy to your core where your organs are to keep you alive.  In the same way, sustainable leaders know that you will never reach your mission if you sacrifice your core.

The core is you and your people.  We need to take care of each other and our whole beings.  How are you and others doing mentally, physically, socially, spiritually, financially, professionally and in your family life?  If we don’t take care of ourselves as a whole person in these core areas, we will not be around to make the mission happen.

We need to allow time for retreat, reflection and for people to reach their potential in their unique authenticity of who they are in their strengths passions and outlets.  I know one successful leader, who provides paid retreat time for all his employees.  He also seeks out how they are uniquely gifted and builds the position around them instead of them fitting into a predefined structure.  Even his org chart is designed around people moving through a system rather than in fixed positions.

How will you apply the five nutrients of a leaderful ecosystem today?  One step is to engage the broader system.  Are there new relationships that you can form in your community and beyond to reach a shared mission?  You need to build relationships, but how you build those is critical.  Do you fully listen and get to know the person instead of seeing them as a means to an end?  Do you open your mind to a new perspective?  Also, when we lead, we need to be flexible.  How are you growing your leadership ability to know when to be directive and when to be facilitative?  How are you also expanding yourself in other ways of “knowing”?  How are you taking care of yourself and others in order to be sustainable?

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