During this morning’s staff check-in I confessed to having Super Tuesday jitters. I can say, without expressing specific political views, that I felt it was a ‘high stakes’ primary and I have been sitting with that for hours, and really the irony of it. For many years now I have been haranguing against the ways in which individualistic culture has corrupted our understanding of leadership and how change occurs…. and it’s not through the ‘heroic, white male leader’ out front leading the charge!
I have been reminded of several things by my discomfort! Oftentimes, in my movement work I have been more motivated by what I was against, what I loath, and not nearly enough by a clear vision of what I am standing for. This is not to say that the season has not raised important issues, and indeed, I am for free quality health care and free education for everyone; and when I say everyone, it’s with recognition of who is denied these things in this country and why. So, yes, the fight is bigger and way more expansive than what is happening this year.
This takes me to the discussions that have shaped our Creating Space convenings this past year about building and shifting power for justice and equity. This is not the work of single organizations or individuals. It reminds me that we need to challenge our ideas about individualism that permeate everything, especially leadership. As we start to think about leadership as people taking action together (and the current environment is providing compelling motivations for people who care about each other and the planet), there is the potential to reimagine what it would take to support and mobilize leadership at an entirely different scale, one that begins to shift power for justice.
There are exciting models of leadership development in the context of movement work, campaigns, and networks. And, there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, the assumption of many leadership development programs with a set of leadership competencies is that each participant needs to have all of these competencies. Why? When we lead with others why does each person need to have all of these competencies when they could be distributed within the group that is leading some action? It’s hard to troubleshoot this conundrum in programs that serve individuals, and still we should try and experiment with different models.
The staff running these leadership programs often inherit roles and performance review models that reinforce individualism and fail to optimize team strengths. At Creating Space, we heard loud and clear about the need to hack existing models or create new equitable approaches to things such as recruitment, review, team meetings, etc. to begin anchor our work inside and out in equitable approaches that model the kind of leadership we need to build power.
As I personally experienced today (and many days), the default to individualism, a tenet of whilte supremacist culture, is strong. Stepping back to take the bigger view helped with the jitters, refocused me on the real work of building power, and in case you are wondering, all that said and I am voting, in fact, off to the polls now!