Leaderful Practice and the Occupy Movements

I have been asked to comment on the usage of the term “leaderful” referring to the form of leadership endorsed within the Occupy movement.  It is often said by Occupy adherents that their leadership is not leaderless but leaderful.  When I first introduced the leaderful concept (  see, e.g., http://www.leaderful.org/ or http://www.northeastern.edu/poe/about/bookpage.html ), I relied on this same derivation, but went on to say that any entity or movement can be leaderful when everyone is participating and not dependent on any one individual to mobilize action for others.  Further, the leadership is occurring at the same time and all together, meaning that the leadership is both concurrent and collective.

Concurrency and collectiveness are two of the so-called “four C’s” of leaderful practice.  In concurrency, we stipulate that there can be more than one leader operating at the same time, so the members willingly and naturally share power.  In collectiveness, we stipulate that leadership can be a mutual phenomenon, a practice of engagement not based on the heroics of any one individual.                      

Leaderful practice is also collaborative. All members of the organization, not just the position leader, may speak for the entire movement. They may advocate a point of view that they believe can contribute to the common good, but they are equally sensitive to the views and feelings of others. They thus seek to engage in a public dialogue in which they willingly open their beliefs and values to scrutiny. It is through dialogue that collaborative leaders co-create their enterprise.

Finally, leaderful managers are compassionate. By demonstrating compassion, one extends unadulterated commitment to preserving the dignity of others. Each member of the organization is valued, regardless of his or her background or social standing, and all viewpoints are solicited regardless whether they conform to current thought processes. In practicing compassion, leaders take the stance of a learner who sees the adaptability of the movement as dependent upon the contribution of others.

So, we have the ingredients for establishing a leaderful culture. Unfortunately, leaderful practice is not typically the default option when it comes to exhibiting leadership. The individual heroic model still persists. I notice that even the media don’t have the necessary language to report on the leaderful concept because reporters are not accustomed to leadership being organized in this way.  But what we are witnessing is a movement wherein people are learning to lead together in the world.  Leadership becomes a democratic practice based on the use of critical dialogue in which participants learn to engage through a reflective practice that allows them to observe and experiment with their own collective tacit processes in action.  Through dialogue, participants are able to reach reasoned, informed, and public-spirited decisions of common concern.  Further, as they operate in this way, they can shape their communities for the better, that is, in ways that are more responsive to their mutual needs.

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Comment by David Eggleton on December 5, 2011 at 10:40am
And then there is complementarity, in which strengths are made productive and weaknesses are made irrelevant. In such arrangements, I don't pretend to need my voice heard when I haven't much to contribute.


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