Generating ideas, connections, and action

Leadership Development Hiding in Plain Sight: Reflections on Creating Space X


In reading the survey responses from our national meeting, Creating Space X in Baltimore this past May, a funny thought crossed my mind.  Aren’t many of the things that people benefited from at CS elements of good leadership development?  A number of participants even talked about replicating some of these methodologies like open space, self-organizing, and the design challenge into their leadership programs.   Here are some examples of some of the major themes and what people said:

  • Diversity: A lot of people talked about the value of connecting with others who share a passion for being change makers and meeting people who are different, “the wonderfully diverse mixture of researchers, consultants, program staff, funders and community organizers.”
  • Relationship Building and Peer Learning:  Small group interactions facilitated relationship building and peer exchange, “talking one on one with people about their program models and what they’re working on to exchange ideas and learn from each other.”
  • Deep Conversation: A number of people mentioned the importance of time and space for deep conversations, “Inviting people to come into the conversation with openness, without judgment and not forcing an outcome, especially on topics like race.”
  • Application to Real Problems/Issues: The design challenge harnessed the group’s creative energy around real time issues and problems and was very popular with survey respondents.  “The Design Challenge is something I have used several times with a lot of success.”

Many of the things that people found useful at Creating Space are what we hear from participants of leadership programs when we do leadership program evaluations. I found myself having a couple of ideas and questions about leadership development as I thought about these similarities.

1.)    Do we still continue to invest too much time in bringing expertise to participants rather than letting participants drive learning?  We had a lot of comments about how much people learned from each other in small group conversations.  In fact, even though there were a couple of appreciations for some excellent conversations catalysts, still people wanted more time with each other.   Maybe our thoughts about leadership development are still too driven by ideas about what people need rather than what they bring and can share.

2.)    If people are developed through exposure to a diverse groups of people in a process that encourages  peer learning are we paying enough attention to delivery strategies like practicums, learning communities, boot camps (i.e. Changemaker Bootcamp); and the processes that accelerate connection, learning, experimentation and action?

3.)    Does leadership development have to occur in a formal program structure?  The program structure is great for encouraging self-reflection and nurturing relationships over time but what about those who cannot afford to participate in formal programs? How can we take what we are learning about leadership development processes and delivery strategies to help us embed leadership development into the way we work, for example, the ways that we design a large meeting or gathering?