Note of Better Way discussion in the third London cell, 4 December 2018

The group was discussing Better Way leadership, and was opened by some thoughts from Peter Holbrook, reflecting on the literature.  It is said that a leader ‘knows, goes, and shows the way’ and that leaders have an ability to empower others and to do the right thing.  Leaders should seek not to take the credit but be willing to take responsibility.  Various styles were recognised, including coercive; authoritative; affiliative and democratic.  Sometimes leadership was there but people do not recognise it in themselves.  It can feel hard to lead the cavalry when you don’t feel comfortable on a horse. 

One could get lost in the advice from the literature but ultimately one should treat others as one wished to be treated.  The qualities of respect, kindness, generosity, nurturing, enabling and empowering others are important.  Personal values matter and one should keep on learning and reflecting and act with love.  This point resonated powerfully in the following discussion.

Love – warmth and accessibility - was not much talked about in leadership but was undoubtedly important, it was agreed.  In the Oasis network, they seek to practice at all levels and in everything they do ‘nine habits’ which include joyfulness, patience, peace, love, self-control, hope and perseverance.  Leadership requires ‘followship’.  Their hope is that through this approach they are supporting lots of people who can be influential.  It is about creating the right culture.

Generosity of spirit and the practice of love was not, however, the dominant model, the group reflected.  Co-operation was talked about but competition was more common and the qualities that were more often rewarded were self-importance, lack of humility and ruthlessness.    Leaders were often expected to grow an organisation and were judged on its financial stability.  Under pressure, people often defaulted to a more primitive way of operating.  It was argued that there is a need for more honesty amongst CEOs about leadership and what worked. 

We argued for a bigger scale of ambition amongst social sector leaders and to look beyond one organisation.  Gay rights had been achieved by more than one organisation and not by making minor adjustments to the status quo.  Partnership was essential to achieve this kind of change. 

We explored the model of ‘open sourcing’ in IT, which can make commercial sense.  Resources are freely available but free input is also gained.  At the same time companies like Google are knocking out competition and allowing no scope for plurality.

We reflected on the fact that sometimes people feel powerless to achieve change when in fact there are many resources and levers available to them.  Leadership was partly about belief in ones own efficacy.  Community organisers can help here and are another example of leadership.  It would also be great to see more confidence from staff at all levels to push for change and believe in themselves as leaders.

The two questions from the group  that could be explored further by the network are:

  • How we can embed a style of leadership that embodies collaboration and the generous quality of love.
  • How to create a sense of self-efficacy to unlock leadership amongst those at all levels of an organisation and in all communities who do not currently feel ‘comfortable on the horse’.