We need a new image of leadership!

Here’s what we found when we searched the Internet for leadership images to illustrate a workshop flyer on coaching, mentoring, and team leadership:

• A flag bearer leading troops.
• A parental presence leaning over others’ shoulders to examine their work.
• Crowds lifting a single figure aloft.
• Hands of various colors clasped in a mandala shape.

None of these images match, convey or inspire what we see emerging in the meetings we facilitate. And what we see emerging is a leadership model that is vitally alive and suited to today’s challenges.

Whether we are serving nonprofits, business teams, or government agencies, common patterns of shared leadership show up when we use these methods. Here are some indicators:

• Groups identify and engage stakeholders from throughout their organization, its customer base, and its partners or allies in planning activities.

• Because stakeholders work together to examine the organization’s current situation and create a shared vision for its future, their communication, alignment, and individual commitment to the work of the team grows.

• When commitment must be expressed through dedication of time, money, and personal ownership of planned action, leaders emerge from many places.

• Leadership is expressed first as representation of a particular interest or group, individual ownership of specific tasks, commitment of initial resources and investment in the success of the initiative. It becomes a shared quality as the situation changes and people respond to emerging needs for their unique resources, and recognize the necessary contribution of other stakeholders.

The picture that emerges is one of shared leadership, with team members united around a common vision, explicit mission, and agreed sets of outcomes. As the work moves forward, this kind of team can respond flexibly to unanticipated requirements because members connect what needs to be done and their own resources to the heart of the work.

Self-managed or shared leadership teams seem well adapted to environments of change, where diverse talents and skills are needed for rapid response. New forms of communication and collaboration, fueled by the Internet and social media, also encourage shared leadership (consider the volunteer teams that contribute to the encyclopedia of knowledge available on Wikipedia).

When shared leadership seems appropriate to a group you are serving, how do you draw it out? Here are three strategies:

1. Be a facilitator – Powerful Grove tools such as the Team Performance™ Model and Graphic Guide® templates can give teams both the conceptual framework and the practical ability to collaborate. A skilled facilitator can assist the team to use these tools to its best advantage, and can help individual members to find their voice and leadership role.

2. Be a mentor – As you guide a group through planning or project meetings, you can demonstrate and discuss the models and tools you are using. When you do this, you are mentoring members as facilitative leaders in their own right. In this way, the meeting produces both immediate results and long-term leadership abilities for the future.

3. Engage stakeholders from throughout the organization and its community – At initial meetings with senior leadership, use activities such as Stakeholder Mapping to reveal who may be impacted by the project under consideration and whose resources and support may be needed to make it work. Listening to these people and involving them in the project may reveal new avenues for collaboration and sources of leadership.

Back at the drawing board, we are still looking for an image of this new leadership style. Although we haven’t found it yet, we know it’s there… just as we know that leaders are already there in the organizations and projects we serve. They may not have a leadership title on their organization chart, and they may not be present at our initial meetings with project sponsors. But they are there. And it’s our job, as facilitators, coaches, mentors (and leaders!), to draw them out.

Our company, Aligned for Results, LLC, helps people work better together to achieve results that matter to them. Because team alignment and individual commitment are essential to this process, we use interactive facilitation tools (such as the Grove’s Strategic Visioning templates) that support the emergence of both.