What is participatory leadership and why do we need it, right now?


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[Check the 'notes' tab for the narrative] What is participatory leadership and where did it come from? Why we need to embrace and develop the principles and practices of participatory leadership for our businesses, communities and society.

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  • I want to take you back in time. And if you went to business school, or know anything about the history of modern business or economic theory, I invite you to tune out as I butcher it to make a point.
  • Frederick Winslow Taylor – 1880s-90s – invented scientific management (or Taylorism) was a theory of management centred on economic efficiency, especially labor productivity.Massively influential in manufacturing industries, peaking in 1910-20.Key aspects of Taylor’s theories include analysis; synthesis; logic; rationality; empiricism; work ethic; efficiency and elimination of waste; standardization of best practices.Notably absent are recognition of the human needs of the individual workers or trust in their intelligence or individual talents.Henry Ford, car manufacturer and creator of Fordism - a system for mass manufacturing based on some very similar concepts to Taylor and emerged roughly the same time. One difference was that Ford included the idea of paying workers enough to buy the mass-produced low cost goods created by their labour. Essentially the god-father of consumerism.
  • The Model T Ford – the world’s first affordable car, sold over 15 million – initial cost $850 but due to ever increasing efficiency dropped to $260. In 1914, an assembly line worker was able to buy one with four months pay. A massive success story, paving the way for the domination of Fordism in all areas of manufacturing, but over the years, the ideas that Ford and Taylor pioneered, around division of labour and highly structured businesses that drove ever-increasing efficiency spread and spread.
  • Over the last 100 years, as well as other manufacturing and service industries, I believe that many elements of how Taylor and Ford thought about business are present in the organisations that we rely on to tackle issues like climate change, our nation’s health, and global poverty.And somewhere on the evolution of modern business, we started to be aware that things weren’t quite right. Although some people were doing well out of this, some other stuff was going seriously tits up.
  • We realised that our way of organising ourselves was pillaging our natural resources and increasing the temperature of the ENTIRE PLANET.http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fires_and_Deforestation_on_the_Amazon_Frontier,_Rondonia,_Brazil_-_August_12,_2007.jpg
  • We found out that children were being exploited to feed our lifestyles.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Child_Labor_in_Morona_Santiago,_Ecuador_1990.jpg
  • We became aware that as well as being exploited, some people were so unhappy in their working conditions that they were killing themselves.This is a partial list of the 18 Foxconn workers who killed themselves in 2010.
  • And while we weren’t (all) ready to kill ourselves, many of us hated our jobs, are burning out, feel disempowered at work (as well as in our communities and society).
  • Some of the our institutions started to fail.http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Northern_Rock_Queue.jpg
  • We realised that this had all happened thanks to us following our “leaders”, handing them control, many of who we now don’t trust, and have come to dislike.So what went wrong…?http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_Cameron_official.jpghttp://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bob_Diamond_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_2012.jpg
  • Business had built itself on the idea that it chose what system it was part of, and that this was usually a closed system that only looked as far as their employees, customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders. We know from nature that everything is interconnected.
  • And if everything is interconnected,even the most mechanistic and structured businesses operate in a complex environment - in which the rate of change is speeding up.Businesses had fought for years to maintain equilibrium – some of the most recent business thinking believes that equilibrium = death. Homeostasis might serve a business well, for a very short space of time, but as soon as something changes, they can’t change fast enough, and they disappear.http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neon_sign,_%22CHANGE%22.jpg
  • We had created structures that completely disempowered workers, kept them separate from each other, discouraged them from collaborating, and made them scared of doing anything different.http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cubicle.png
  • Not only was this dehumanising, and actually inefficient (unless you were manufacturing cars), it meant that being flexible and agile was nigh on impossible.This is why cars are now made by robots.
  • We realised that a highly mechanistic process of mass-manufacturing goods, wasn’t the same as tackling complex challenges like climate change, and that the same models of organising ourselves – with a small group of people trying to make the biggest decisions, on their own, isn’t just difficult, it’s dangerous.
  • Most importantly, I’ve realised that management and leadership are not the same things. We’ve somehow come to believe that people who get themselves into positions of power, and earn a lot of money, automatically qualify for status of leader. We’ve come to believe that a leader is someone who makes lots of decisions for us, is someone we must ‘follow’.Until, that is, the poor sod makes a decision we don’t like (which was inevitable as they try to make huge decisions that affect our lives, in small groups behind closed doors).Then we decide they are total bastards.Harsh.
  • “So what? We messed things up, we think we know (some of) why, what do you suggest we do about it?”Thank you for asking…http://www.flickr.com/photos/carstenkessler/8032183303/
  • Well, firstly, I think we need to redefine leadership.The definition of leader is all about status and being followed.Personally, I think this is bullshit, and why we got in this mess in the first place – we have ceded control to a small group of people, who it turns out haven’t been making very good decisions. And we’re all culpable – we gave them this status, they accepted it, and struggled making those decisions about complex problems, behind closed doors, because WE expected THEM to sort everything out.
  • I prefer a very different explanation of leadership.
  • Even more so, I love this definition of what leadership means, from one of the leading thinkers in emerging management theory, Peter Senge.
  • Thisidea of redefining leadership as something we all own, and use to build our future together underpins the emerging organisational practice of Participatory Leadership.Like most good ideas, it’s come from the left-field, and now being embraced by the mainstream.The theory and practices have been developed by progressive thinkers and practitioners, working in conflict resolution, organisational development and tackling complex problems with large groups of people.One of the leading groups of proponents and practitioners are the Art of Hosting network, who I’ve recently been training with in Denmark and Sweden. They’ve grown from a small group of out-there thinkers to a network of thousands of facilitators and change-makers who share a common purpose, to build the movement of participatory practices for the common good.With it’s circle practices, open space technology and world café practices, talking about meaningful conversations and being unattached to outcomes, you might think that the business world would shun the field. Instead, thanks to people like Peter Senge, Toke Møller and others like them, business schools and the leading large institutions are beginning to embrace this way of thinking.http://www.flickr.com/photos/thoth188/2722893757/sizes/l/in/photostream/
  • The principle idea behind participatory leadership is that of harnessing the collective intelligence.If we accept that hierarchical leadership is no longer serving us in tackling complex problems, or in operating in a complex, changing environment, the alternative is to embrace all parts of the system.By giving everyone a voice, to share and to build on their feelings and ideas, we can create highly flexible organisations capable of organising themselves around the problems that matter and addressing them more quickly than ever before.Studies by the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence showed that the collective intelligence of a group is greater than the combined intelligence of the individuals in the group. In fact, there was a very weak correlation between the IQ of the individual’s in the group and that of the group itself.
  • Interestingly the MIT study also says that there are three consistent factors that impact how effective groups are:The average social perceptiveness of the group membersThe evenness of conversational participationThe proportion of women in the groupIt’s no coincidence that PL is about becoming better at communicating with each other, by using various practices and principles: Slowing down our conversations Listening actively and suspending judgement Speaking with awareness of our intent Being aware of our impact on the group Encouraging people to be aware of who has air time.This all takes practice, but the end result is more productive meetings, conversations and relationships.http://www.flickr.com/photos/eknathgomphotherium/6006153874/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  • In order to communicate consciously and be more respectful, we need to be more connected to ourselves and surface this a bit better in our work.Unless we’re checking in with how we’re feeling about a particular person, or issues, we’re not able to speak with awareness of our intention, for example.A simple way of introducing this into your work is having a check-in before a meeting where you think it might get tricky – ask everyone to say how they’re feeling, so others understand what’s REALLY going on in the room.http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/4619798994/
  • This is a quote from the Queen of Denmark – who one of the people I massively respect in the Art of Hosting community, speaks of as being a very wise woman.The words underline the importance of meaningful conversations – we talk, a lot. We meet, a lot. But how often do we have the conversation we need to have? And how many times do we see the same old problems and conflicts happen in our workplaces? How often do we see our meetings as frustrating and pointless?If you’re familiar with the Lencioni model of ‘five dysfunctions of a team’ you’ll know that most of the problems in business stem from people being unable to have open, honest conversations that create trust and accountability.The Participatory Leadership principle is that every conversation or meeting should be rooted in meaning and purpose – and if it isn’t, why are you having it?Orient yourselves around powerful questions.http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattyp/5560465017/sizes/l/in/photostream/
  • As well as organising ourselves around meaningful questions and conversations, what will really move us forward is organising everything we do around something that has higher purpose.We need to ask ourselves some (often) hard questions – why am I doing this, is this needed, right now?Creating a clear sense of, and connection to purpose, helps people feel like their work is meaningful.http://www.flickr.com/photos/leesean/5114553800/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  • We need our current leaders to re-learn what it means to be one – which isn’t someone who directs, and should be followed but one who leads from the edge, who stewards others.They need to create the conditions and remove the barriers for conversations that matter, and help their people develop the necessary skills for participatory leadership.http://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4811884842/sizes/z/in/photostream/
  • This is already here, alive in the practices of large and small organisations all over the world, it’s what underpins new social movements like Occupy, and Social Innovation/citizen hacking movements.It’s at the heart of what I do with some of my clients at NixonMcInnes and what we do at CityCamp Brighton.Hopefully you see something familiar in this, or something you want to take away with you.Let’s shape our future, together.http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattyp/5560465017/
  • What is participatory leadership and why do we need it, right now?

    1. 1. (Un)follow the leaderWhy we need to reclaim our future and shape ittogetherMax St John, NixonMcInnes / @maxwellstjohn / maxstjohn.tumblr.com
    2. 2. “The idea of living systems isnt ametaphor for how human institutionsoperate. Its the way they really are.”Richard T Pascale
    3. 3.
    4. 4. Management ≠ Leadership
    5. 5. lead·er·ship/ˈlēdərˈSHip /Noun:1. The action of leading a group of peopleor an organization.2. The state or position of being a leader.
    6. 6. Etymology:1. Indo-European source meaning „flow‟2. Prehistoric West and North Germanicmeaning „journey‟ or „way‟~ “cause to go one‟s own way”
    7. 7. “Leadership is the journey ofbecoming a profound human being.It’s how human communities developtogether. Stepping across thethreshold to shape their own future.”Peter Senge, March 2013
    8. 8. Making it real: participatory leadership
    9. 9. Leadership = hostingconversations that matter