In June, I wrote about organizational charts as a very limited representation of the way power, influence, and contribution flow in and around institutions. Our significance as people and value as community members don’t hinge on our job titles or institutional roles, I said.
So Miki Kashtan’s comments on leadership beyond influence and the power to enforce stood out to me tonight. Kashtan, who I’ve been reading on and off since May, uses nonviolent communication principles to design group dynamics that enable all group members to claim responsibility for their group and its outcomes: the ability to author isn’t limited to the people at the top of the pyramid.
What actions count as exhibiting leadership? Speaking up, for example, when others are nervously noticing something going on and saying nothing, can be a form of leadership…
If we are committed to the whole, we are fully open to being influenced, not only to influencing others. When we take on a leadership stance, we act with the intention to serve the whole, and whatever that means—even if it means changing our own preferences or desired outcomes—is what we choose to do.
…So much of the definition of leadership revolves around influence because the people who write about leadership are immersed in the organizational world, which is mostly organized with one person on top leading the rest, mostly in the form of making all or most of the decisions that affect the whole.
I don’t have any faith that this model is going to take us into a future that works… I see the way forward to be many more of us taking on the active, empowered stance of leading, wherever we are, and whatever our official position may be.” —Miki Kashtan, Reweaving Our Human Fabric, pp. 178-179
This approach to leadership insists that we all belong and that there are ways for each of us to contribute. It acknowledges the power those beyond the organizational chart hold, and it also threatens to disrupt the power of those smoothly running the system as it already is.
In Kashtan’s vision, organizational leaders who might otherwise command and expect it to stand fast can gain the experience of receiving collaborative feedback. Organizational members used to being overrun and dominated can gain the experience of having their perspectives solicited and fairly considered. And each person can gain the experience of acting with the whole in mind.
“We can improve the outcomes for all of us” is the heart of this approach, and there’s been no better time in history than to give it a try.