Leadership and Collaborative Learning

“Leadership is not only about what we do; it is about who we are.  It is a metaphor for how we are trying to change ourselves as well as change the world around us.” 
Mark Gerzon, “Leaders without Borders:  Five Principles of Global Leadership and Citizenship”, 2001.

Effective leadership in a multi-stakeholder environment requires more than traditional leadership tools and techniques.  It requires forms of leadership where:

  • everyone listens with empathy, suspending assumptions about partners/ collaborators
  • consensus is forged from all directions: top, bottom and sides
  • people are encouraged to yield to new ideas, to challenge previous assumptions, and to be willing to take field trips into other people’s points of view, and beyond
  • differences are respected, even where there has been, or is a high level of conflict
  • it also means being willing to engage in a true learning journey, where participants in the group take time to learn more about one anothers’ perspectives, realities and priorities.

During our collaborative work with groups we usually design and facilitate interactive mini-workshops that assist groups in learning and practicing dynamic and boundary-crossing leadership.  Some of the skills and concepts that we address include:

  • seeing leadership as a way of working productively in a web of relationships over the long-term
  • becoming more skilful at multi-stakeholder relationship building
  • practicing inclusiveness - actively seeking all points of view,  appreciating others’ perspectives, and cultivating open-mindedness
  • exploring how to champion or sponsor initiatives, including when to step back
  • how to create group governance mechanisms
  • risk-taking and breaking down barriers; for example, looking for opportunities for people to speak with those they don’t normally speak to
  • acknowledging small successes and sharing credit widely
  • (especially when things get tough) offering hope; demonstrating resilience and persistence

“As the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker said:  ‘If it ain’t in your heart, it ain’t in your horn.’  We can hear the horns everywhere, but if they’re not being played from the heart, then certain negative consequences follow.” 
Parker Palmer, Leader to Leader, 2001.


© Ingrid Richter, Ray Gordezky