Thursday, March 19, 2009

Join the Conversation

At the Leadership Center at Saint Mary's College, you are invited to join the inquiry and in the conversation on what does a 21st Century Leadership practice look like. On a regular basis we will post some thoughts, reflections and questions for your consideration, and to hopefully entice you to participate in the conversations. We invite you to share your ideas, questions, experiences, and stories here about leadership in the 21st century.

At the Center, our focus is to advance the understanding and practice of leadership suitable to the world of the 21st century.  How shall we respond to the unique and profound challenges and opportunities upon us?  What kind of leadership is warranted? What do we need to know, be, or do in order to be effective? By asking good questions, and by engaging others in these questions, we believe we can find the kind of leadership responsive to the world in which we belong.  

Lately, I have been thinking about the essence of leadership. It seems to me that underneath all the various definitions, theories, and perspectives, it comes down to this: Leadership is the initiative, on the part of individuals and collectives, toward seeking change in the conditions of our world for the better.  This initiative arises in everyday people in everyday circumstances, in the various spheres of life, whether that is one's family, community, place of worship, workplace, or society at large.  What do you think? What initiatives are you taking? What encourages you to take this initiative? And what gets in the way?

I like hearing or reading about how ordinary people do extraordinary things to make the world a better place. Check out the website  There are some incredible stories about regular folks making a difference.  Do you have a story of someone who has made a difference you would like to share?  

Continuing on this idea, I have found a lot of inspiration and hope in the book Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken.  In it, he describes how countless (actually he has counted) nonprofit groups, both large and small, have collectively become the largest movement in social change in history, and are making a difference in important ways. Here is a short video of Paul Hawken reading from his book.
These groups collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in every city, town, and culture. 

So what if we thought about leadership as more about the initiative for change, emanating from all members of the group or organization, and less about the person in charge?  What would happen to our practice of leadership if we were to view it as being of service to constructive change? 

I think if we really look at deep and sustainable change, it involves all kinds of people who brought forward their various gifts, creativity, and contributions.  So for leadership to flourish it would follow that part of leadership includes attention to how we create the conditions, which encourages people to bring themselves forward, to respond to others initiatives, and to engage together in service of constructive change.  In this way, leadership is shared, and is the property of the entire social network not just the domain of designated leaders.  Do you know of instances of this kind of leadership? What were the circumstances that made it possible? 

If this perspective piques your interest you might find the following websites worth looking at:

Again, we invite you to share your thoughts, questions, and experiences. We hope you will jump into the conversation about leadership, for we think this will help in advancing the understanding and practice of leadership in the 21st century.