Leadership in a community is not a singular thing, its not one person deciding for all but a conversation that is lead and facilitated by one person or a small group. You might have an agenda, a specific goal or problem that needs to be overcome. But how lead? That was a question that came up during an inspiring conversation I had with Gillian Davis. She is the author of 'First Time Leader: Foundational Tools to Inspire and Enable Your Team' and founder of OverTime Leader.
We talked about the role of leadership in community and how its more about holding space, enabling and facilitating the people around you. Its an organizational role, a humble one – communities don't need heros – its much more about the collective effort and how every person can contribute and play a role.
A community needs to self organize, that means members need to be able and willing to step up, take responsibility and contribute time and effort, to get others on the same page and things done. Holding each other accountable, checking-in and keeping tabs is vital but also easier said than done. Following 3 great nuggets on leadership from our conversation.
Leading, holding space, facilitating – its all hard work. Its easy to burn out or get discouraged when things move slow or not at all. You need to give yourself the right time and space to stay energized. Knowing oneself and understanding what drains you and what gives you energy is very helpful.
Gillian has noticed that when she's low energy her ability to coach is challenged, and finds herself giving more advice. The idea that talking less takes more energy might sound counterintuitive, but for Gillian, it highlights the energy that goes into active listening in order to have a strong connection - especially in remote environments.
For me its brainstorming or talking an idea through with someone, critically but constructively, this gives me motivation and energizes me. To a certain degree it has to do with organizing the world around me and the clarity that comes from doing that, that feels good.
Opening the Space
Its also good to be mindful that you don't always need to fill the space. Silence can be awkward and feel like a bad thing, but it creates and opens up the space for others to speak and contribute. Get comfortable with silence but also let everyone know its ok to sit in silence, take a breath, feel and think into the situation. It can slow things down, but sometimes thats ok, you don’t always have to rush to conclusions. Being an active listener, having a heightened level of awareness towards yourself and the group dynamic can be key – this can also cost a lot of energy, so be ready for it.
Gillian also talked about the different types of leadership: from constrained and top down to a facilitated and more pronounced group dynamic. They have their advantages and disadvantages and are useful in different situations. Constraints can be alienating or powerfully focused and group dynamics' can be empowering and motivating, or fizzle out because of uncertainty. They key is knowing when to let the group dynamic flow and allow for self managed work and when its time to step in, bring the constraints and the direction back. In her eyes, and I loved this idea, its a pendulum. You don’t want to be on either side but swing from one to the other using its most beneficial powers when called for.
You can find Gillian on Twitter.