I like the idea of Social Leadership being organic: not one thing that we learn, but rather a continual growth. Also, that it spreads, takes root, as a social movement, spreading through an organisation. Today, i am exploring that idea, building on the notion of Social Leadership Circles that i shared last week, but evolving it, as i #WorkOutLoud. This is an exploration of those ideas.
My intent is for both an idea, and an approach, to developing Social Leadership at scale, within the everyday reality of most organisations. It’s clear to me that Social Leadership, at both an individual, and organisational, level, is best developed as it is exercised, within a community. In my last book, ‘Social Leadership: my 1st 100 days’, i laid out that journey, a guided reflection, and set of activities, to set down the authentic roots. But the reality for most organisations is that they will need a range of approaches: interventions for Executives, for formal Leaders, and for broader teams. A model which allows us to grow this capability is one that is rooted at a local, tribal, level, each individual becoming more interconnected, leading to that connectivity at scale.
Social Leadership is an organisational capability that is grown over time, with the roots set down by every individual who engages. And once we have it, we have the foundations of the Socially Dynamic Organisation.
Let me explore some of the ideas behind Social Leadership Trees (and why i decided against ‘circles’, ‘webs’, ‘tribes’, and ‘clubs’!).
Trees grow, and we can nurture that growth. They are part of a wider ecosystem, and both contribute to the health of that system, and rely upon the overall connectivity of it. They are cyclical, and carry their growth as rings. Trees both burst into blossom, but also shed their leaves, in annual cycles of renewal, and that is a central theme of Social Leadership, which i address at the very first stage, ‘Curation’. We do not choose our space forever, we choose a foundation to build upon. I like the idea that some leaves we shed, and some just get blown away as we are battered by the wind. But overall, it’s a continual cycle of growth, shedding, and renewal.
Trees adapt to their environment: near to me are wind pruned trees on the clifftops, growing low, almost sideways, with the tops sheared off by constant buffeting winds, but adapted to their environment. When i visited Angkor Watt, i saw trees intertwined through the ancient stones, flowing through, and around, the physical structure of the building, much as Social Leaders operate in systems that flow through, and around, the formal structure.
Trees set down roots: i have previously used the metaphor of setting down roots to describe our authenticity. It’s through our actions over time, our humility, our willingness to invest in our community, that our authenticity is grown. The notion of time, and growth, is important. You cannot cheat it.
Then there is the idea of propagation and spread: i’m using a notion of SEED communities in the new work on Dynamic Change, so that ties in well to this idea. The idea that we do not provide all the answers, but rather create the community spaces where ‘sense making’ occurs, where answers may be found.
I have also been keen that Social Leadership is a power and authority that can be provided, and supported, by the Organisation, but is also one that can be claimed in opposition to formal power. Anyone can choose to be a Social Leader, and any organisation can choose to nurture and support it.
So how does it work?
At some levels, Organisations will actively develop Social Leadership, through programmes. At others, they will support individual, and group journeys. And some people will simply claim a space. But overall, our journey to become more Socially Dynamic is based in the actions of individuals: so we grow, we make the journey, and we are battered by the elements of our everyday reality as we do so. But scars and all, we grow.
As we do so, we shed old leaves, and grow new ones, and we grow out our authentic roots. We may support, and grow, other Social Leadership trees around us, forming a grove, changing part of the overall landscape. As we find our voices, we will reach out to others, connecting up the different parts of the forest.
Trees grow in balance with the ecosystem around them: but they also effect that environment. In a toxic culture, it will be hard to develop Social Leadership, but as we do so, we will drain some of that toxicity, in the only way that counts. Through our actions.
And in systems which learn to thrive, we create a secondary effect: forests are vibrant ecosystems, not just full of trees, but the sound of birdsong, and the sight of wild flowers. It’s this notion of interconnectivity that has led me to this metaphor, and i’ll see where i can grow it from here.