Generating ideas, connections, and action

Lessons From Creating Space XII

Creating Space 2015 has the potential to change the conversation about leadership development if we listen deeply to the voices and experiences of people on the ground doing heavy lifting change work in their schools, neighborhoods, and communities. There were several important questions that surfaced during Creating Space 2015:

  • What is leadership (or who is a leader)?

  • What is leadership development?

  • What are the problems with these concepts and language?

What is leadership?

The theme of Creating Space 2015 was focused on learning from and about non-traditional leadership.  The first thing we learned was that some people do not like to use the term “leader”, some felt the language “non-traditional” did not honor cultural traditions that shape the leadership of people who we were using this terminology to describe, others used the term indigenous leadership while some felt that this diluted the meaning of indigenous, some used the term grassroots and others community leadership.  Language will continue to be a challenge, maybe a useful one while we reclaim leadership and its meaning.  We did know that we were not talking about positional, hierarchical, ‘go it alone’ leadership and there was also agreement  that people who work on very real problems in their communities are critical forces for change.


What is leadership development?

On our first day together at Creating Space we were joined in a talk show format by three amazing guests: Tracy Chandler from LINC who works with kids in her neighborhood school as a volunteer, Mary Luevanos, an activist artist with Community Connections who is working with young people in her neighborhood, and Clark Washington, an organizer who works with Detroit Action Commonwealth to tackle problems related to poverty and homelessness. Our talk show guests were asked what supports are most helpful to their leadership. Their answers to what is most helpful are telling:

  • Access

  • Resources

  • Healing and self-care

  • Recognize that we all have what we need inside ourselves to lead

  • Convenings much like this (Creating Space) where we can learn from each other

  • Expanded Networks


Rethinking Leadership Development

These suggestions raise some important questions about leadership development, especially for grassroots community leadership.  First, most leadership programs focus on developing some competencies and skills that they believe will make someone a better ‘leader’.  Many of the community leaders at Creating Space believe that they have the courage and fire to lead and that what they need to learn they can learn from and with others if they are connected to more robust networks with access to resources.  This is a very different way to think about leadership, one we would like to explore. What if leadership development is really about brokering resources to convene and facilitate network building that helps people build relationships, heal, learn together, get to know each other and connect the dots in order to coordinate action. This is the kind of leadership needed in Detroit (Creating Space XII took place in Detroit) where the coordination of home foreclosures, pension cuts, and water shut offs needs to be met by the same level of coordinated response by those working on these issues.


Photo Credits

From Top To Bottom

  1. Miguel Pope
  2. Miriam Persley
  3. Miguel Pope