BURNING QUESTION (APRIL): What are the challenges you've noticed about stepping into a co-creative leadership role?

Some burning questions around co-creative leadership arose at #cocreate14, including: Who decides who’s in? When and how are traditional leadership skills needed at the center? When does a leader need to let go in order for co-creative magic to happen? What does it look like to have an initiative that’s not leaderless but “leaderful”? How does credit get attributed? How does a leader with a vision guide a co-creative initiative toward emergence?

Clearly, we all have a lot to learn about what it takes to be a good leader in a co-creative setting. What are the challenges YOU have faced in stepping into a co-creative leadership role? What have you learned from handling those challenges, or from watching others in action? We’d love to hear from you!

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Not even knowing what it is…

Biggest thing for me is not even knowing what cocreative leadership is or should look like.

For me the concept isn’t fuzzy, it’s not really there at all.

Everybody agrees leadership is important, perhaps critical.

And it’s very easy after-the-fact to say “oh that went like that because there was good leadership”, or “s/he tried to be too controlling”.

But along the way, how do we know if our actions are (in)appropriate?

I feel a lack of broad models of leadership that are useful.

I think many of the challenges of leadership would iron out with a bigger-picture perspective of what it should look like.

Some things that I can identify about positive leadership:

  • leading by doing is always useful.  Act in a way you believe others should act, and in a way that is visible to them.  (n.b. this does NOT mean doing things for other people, it means doing things that parrallel what others should do.  e.g. don’t organise a neighbourhood gathering in a ‘disadvantaged’ neighbourhood, organise a gathering in your own, and tell your story to those in other neighbourhoods)

  • as a corrollary, sharing stories of leadership is just as good, and much easier : )

  • inspiring a sense of possibility is more effective than persuading others of a vision for a particular future.  One will give you credability, the other one will inspire participation.  (This insight courtesty of Peter Block.)

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Inviting co-creation is not enough

Just because we dub an initiative “co-creative” doesn’t mean people will engage. This is where the concept of leadership becomes critical - framing an invitation that helps people to see the role they can play… inviting, weaving, ensuring coordinated outputs… nurturing the design of co-creative process that enables a collective sense of progress toward something… Traditional top-down leadership styles will have less relevance, but that’s not the same as saying that leadership isn’t there.

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Leadership, functions, theories of change

So thoughts from further digestion…

can we think about leadership not first from “what it is”, assuming there is “a thing called leadership” as our starting point

but instead from “what do we think this ‘leadership’ thing is supposed to do?”  That is, what are the functions or impacts of a thing we might call leadership?  What are the theories of change about the impact that our behaviours might have, that reflect what we might call leadership?

This way, we might not be able to be clear what leadership “is or is not”, but we can at least make solid, verifiable claims about things that happen in the world (patterns of personal influence), thus informing how we can behave in order to more effectively realise our intent (in communion with others).

Bringing experience vs making space for the experience of others

The biggest challenge for me in stepping into a co-creative leadership role is knowing when to act on my own experience and when to leave it at the door. Ideally, an organization/initiative that is working co-creatively to achieve social impact is not leaderless but leader-full, making space for many to bring their experience, knowledge and energy to bear.  Ideally that results in benefitting from the expertise and lessons previously learned by individuals in a group, but that’s not always the case. I remember, for example, once inviting a group of Ugandan women to design a micro-loan scheme that they could all benefit from with a specific amount of capital they had available. For them it was very important to have equal access to the loan capital all at the same time. I could see, however, that the numbers didn’t add up under the plan they were proposing. Insisting on the arithmetic made it seem like I was trying to control the plan, or undermining the value of equal access that they were striving for. Encouraging them to move forward when I knew from my own experience that it would fail felt irresponsible. Knowing how to walk that line between building on my own knowledge and inviting the input of others is a challenge that comes up again and again.

Filling in the operational gaps when others don’t step forward is another challenge I have a hard time with. Co-creating an event, for example, involves a lot of moving parts that have to come together or the event doesn’t take place. So if a group comes up with a list of 20 tasks to be done, and yet people from the group only step forward to take on half of them, it often falls to the “leader” to see that the gaps get filled. How to do this without giving the impression of exerting too much control is a challenge that I’ve struggled with repeatedly.

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co-creative & leadership

Hi @Christina Jordan. Thanks for sharing your challenges. I completely vouch for co-creating, people need to come up with ideas and solutions themselves, but also the need to facilitate it. I just wanted to endorse your point of view, I found it liberating to actually see someone write it down. Now is the question: how to solve this?

Still leading

The big challenge I see over and over again is co-creative leadership doing a great job of inviting community to co-create but then both the leader and the group fall back into old dynamics. The challenge of continuously handing power back to the collective seems quite difficult.

I avoid this by being quite clear about what I am going to be in charge of and what is for the individuals in the group to do - where is co-creation happening and where am I the project manager or director. So I let the old dynamic be present in very specific spaces, which seems to put people at ease for co-creation.

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