As we continue adjusting to the new normal of our post-pandemic world, many organizations are exploring new leadership models. The shift away from the typical office experience has prompted a reexamination of traditional hierarchical systems and how we can reorganize in ways that produce more equitable outcomes. As leaders grapple with questions of how organizational values may have shifted, we ask how new forms of leadership can better reflect those values.

At a recent NationSwell event, members Beth BengtsonRadha RuparellJaTaune Bosby, and Reyna Montoya led a discussion on exploring alternate forms of leadership that challenge the norms of the typical workplace dynamic, diving deep into atypical leadership models such as shared leadership, adaptive leadership, and collective leadership, and others. 

Here are some of the insights from the event:

To fix systemic problems, we will need to activate the leadership of many.
In order to solve so many of the problems and challenges we face, we will need to move towards a model that brings in disparate leaders from across systems. The image of a single caped crusader swooping in to save the day is pervasive in our culture, but in reality we will need change at all levels, at all parts of the system, in order to create change. In education, for example, no one solution will be universally applicable in order to fix caste issues in India, class issues in the U.K. or racial equity issues in America — just as no one President, social entrepreneur, or leader of an organization will be able to come up with the solutions needed on their own.

Bias is a collective problem, and it will require collective solutions to disrupt it.
The roots of biases can’t be attributed to just one person, but rather many people bringing their perspectives together over time. It will require community leaders, policymakers, students, and teachers coming together in conversation with one another over time to address the roots and challenges of biases and address their own part in the problem.

Building diverse teams is key to cultivating a unique set of perspectives and experiences.
A good way to amass a wide range of perspectives, strengths, and approaches is to be intentional about building teams that activate the strengths of a diverse coalition of people. Being a compassionate listener is also an integral part of the process — learning and knowing when to cede the floor to the experts you’ve recruited and trust in their wisdoms and experiences.

Have a trauma-informed pedagogy.
When working with folks who have, by definition, been marginalized or excluded from having their basic needs met, part of the effort to amplify their voices must necessarily include working to understand their triggers and work to avoid re-traumatizing people during the course of creating transformational change. Creating that shared language can be a slow process up front, but it pays dividends in the long run.

Allow people to operate in their gifts.
Part of the work of creating a diversity of leadership is to be thoughtful about creating the right conditions to lift up people’s expertise and experience in the areas that allow them to shine. When working to ameliorate the effects of mass incarceration, for example, pausing to think about how to incorporate and center the voices of those who are currently incarcerated themselves could involve the creation of new fellowship opportunities — avenues to allow those with direct experience within the systems you’re trying to reform to speak out and lend their leadership. 

Release your expectations for an end result.
Part of the work of assembling a diverse group of leaders is to detach from your ideas about the best course of action to take. Empowering leaders must necessarily involve cultivating trust in their expertise — meaning that the path a group decides to take might end up deviating from what you thought it might look like when the work began. Trusting that the group you’ve assembled will use their expertise to select the best possible course of action is a necessary exercise in letting go and creating effective distributed models, but you’ll always have your core values to refer back to.

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