Connecting local responses around the world
I recently posted a blog on how we need to rethink our role as leaders in community, shifting focus on stewardship rather than leadership.
It might be of interest to those of you interested in the relationship between community driven action and wider systems change.
Back in February I attended a conference entitled ‘Losing Control’. On hearing the stories from a wide variety of change-makers I left that event feeling that a new leadership paradigm is emerging. It’s clear we are living through unprecedented times, so it’s a given that leaders need to be comfortable with uncertainty and navigating complexity. However, I think we also need a more collaborative and relational approach that enables us to over come the fragmentation that exists and build more interdependency between organisations and our communities.
“One aspect of our fragmentation is the gaps between sectors of our cities and neighbourhoods; businesses, schools, social service organisations, churches, government operate mostly in their own worlds. Each piece is working hard on its own purpose, but parallel effort added together does not make a community. Our communities are separated into silos; they are a collection of institutions and programs operating near one another but not overlapping or touching. This is important to understand because it is this dividedness that makes it so difficult to create a more positive or alternative future — especially in a culture that is much more interested in individuality and independence than in interdependence. The work is to overcome this fragmentation.” Peter Block
Over the last five years I’ve been working on the development of Stewardship Circles. An approach that offers a response to the recognition that no single organisation can initiate and sustain social change on their own. Most often organisations prioritise addressing the symptoms of specific issues, rather than working on the long term root causes. Yet, we need to learn to collaborate, rather than compete if we are achieve sustained systemic change.
If we can create the conditions, there are opportunities for people across organisations and communities to collaborate together to share visions of the sort of places we want to grow old in and places we want our children to grow up in. Rarely are we invited into such aspirational conversations, where we dream together and seek collective action towards a shared vision. The Stewardship Circle have sought to address this through inviting people to reflect on their role in enabling a culture where communities can connect the strengths of local people to build neighbourhoods from the inside out to make those dreams a reality.
Founded on a belief that sustainable communities thrive when people who live together come together to share their skills and passions, and everyone has the opportunity to make a contribution to the place where they live. The Stewardship Circle encourages reflection on how leaders can value relationships over prestige, power and position, and how to move beyond a single issue and recognise the importance of mobilising people to develop a whole community vision that includes the interests of everyone, especially the most marginalised. Stewards are those people who are often translators, bridge builders and joiners, navigating the messy middle ground between communities and organisations, including their own. They often find themselves working ‘in the gap’ between community driven development and influencing long term systems change. Those working in that space often value the opportunity to reflect and challenge themselves and each other on what leadership means in that messy middle ground, taking time to consider alternative ways of leading that aren’t about directing change from the top, but rather creating the conditions that enable people in communities to take action on the things that are important to them, whilst nurturing organisations to support those community led efforts, without taking over.
The programme is build on some core principles from asset based community development (ABCD), integrated with wisdom from thought leaders such as Peter Block, who’s book on Stewardship encourages leaders to place service ahead of self interest. Peter suggests stewardship is a choice: first, to “act in service of the long run,” and second, to “act in service to those with little power.” Block believes that this choice “translates into creating accountable and committed workplaces without resorting to increased control or compliance as governing strategies.” He contrasts this to the short-term, command-and-control approach in “patriarchal” leadership.
Patriarchal leadership may have been a successful approach in the past, but in our current political and social context so much is uncertain, that command and control approaches are often futile and may be contributing the undermining the trust of leaders and the traditional ideas of what leadership means.
The Economist recently asked people, “why the big gap between trust in leaders and the institutions they lead?” They answered, “leaders have been slow to adapt to the requirements of a world in which top down is no longer the best way to lead, or in many cases even a viable one.” If we accept that top down leadership lacks relevance to the 21st Century, then what do we need to move towards?
The Stewardship Circle has been a way of exploring these issues through bringing together leaders and citizens across the social sector and co-create the conditions for collaboration, supporting each other to know when our help is needed and when we need to get out of the way. This requires much more than getting people into the same room, but changing how we work and ‘are’ together, with more emphasis placed on building deep relationships that lead to trust, which in turn can take us towards the pursual of a collective purpose and a recognition that we need each other gifts. If one recognises that “I can’t do it alone”, then just maybe “I can do it with others”. Not only is this often the first step towards shared ownership but, it is also the core principle of community life, where we intentionally create more interdependency. The role of stewardship is therefore to increase the collective sense of opportunity in a future that everyone is willing to live into through sharing responsibility, listening and learning together (Wilson 2013).
In this process of working together Peter Block suggests that, “questions are more important than answers”. Answers only reiterate what you already know, whereas questions are pregnant with possibility. So to conclude this blog I offer a question that became foundational for Brene Brown in her book ‘Dare to Lead”…
“What if anything about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for your organisation to be successful in a complex rapidly changing environment, where we are faced wth seemingly indetractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation?”
I look forward to hearing your perspectives and working together to build a culture of stewardship.
Originally posted at: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/leaning-into-collaboration-77487e...
I'd love to hear your reflections.