From leadership to 'communityship'

May 27 2016 by Michael Jones Print This Article

At the core of our existence is a common pool of energy, a deep well of creative capacity which we access whenever we share a sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than ourselves. To generate this common pool of creative capacity involves turning from a linear and closely-controlled leadership environment to a more integrative and holistic worldview. As Henry Mintzberg argued, we need to shift our focus from leadership to what he termed ‘communityship’ in order to build greater organizational creativity for the future.

Several principles underlie this metamorphosis and help build communityship. These include:

1. Seeing the Gift in the Other

Everyone has a gift; the act of seeing the gift in the other lies at the heart of community life. Unlike our skills and abilities, which are acquired, our gifts are bestowed. The community sees and calls out the gift and when we act in alignment with our gifts we are also contributing to the health and wellbeing of the whole. Our gifts, in turn, connect us to this deep well of intuitive wisdom which is at the root of life itself.

To thrive, the gift needs to stay in circulation. As the gift is passed along and shared with others, it acquires new layers of meaning and significance As such our gifts, as expressions of our uniqueness, represent the currency of abundance. So it is through the process of gift-sharing that we build organizational creativity for the future.

2. Creating a Sense of Place

Building communityship includes deepening our awareness of the uniqueness of different places which includes seeing what is possible within them. Gifts are like seeds that need the right soil to prosper and grow. We are all very aware of the consequence of being separated from a sense of place. This heightens our focus on anxiety and social isolation We all fear the lack of community and the scarcity this creates.

When we don’t know the place we come from or where we belong we may become mistrustful toward life. So, nurturing our gifts and finding places where they can take root and prosper are the first steps towards building communityship. When we know where we belong we can more freely manifest our innate potential and generate new opportunities for creativity and innovation.

3. Embracing the Spirit of Festival

Another way of creating community is to celebrate it. Whenever we create places for people to become more whole, we are invoking the festival spirit. And a festive community is one where people are committed to one another and feel themselves a part of something extraordinary. Their collective passion and accomplishments, in turn, make the community attractive for others to join.

Festivals are an event, they are also a state of being - a celebration of the whole of life. Festival is the expression of the community spirit that clears away the old order to open the space for the regenerative force of life to flow through. As such, a sense of festival raises our spirits, awakens our senses and helps us see and act in new ways.

Festival can be enacted even through small gestures. For example, in a recent community conversation, we did several things that embraced the spirit of playfulness, ceremony and celebration that honoured the sense of occasion we were experiencing. To begin we brought the language of beauty into the centre of our work. We did so by bringing live music into the room to help with moments of transition and to deepen pauses for reflection. We did it by sharing stories of a time when we had experienced the beauty of the human spirit in moments of crisis, and we did it by inviting silence as each stepped outside in nature to find something they could bring back and add to the centrepiece that would celebrate our harvest reflections for the day.

There are many ways we celebrate the wholeness of festival through art, humour, play, story, movement - even stillness and reflection. Together these acts acknowledge the gift of the spontaneous expression of community - a unique place where in one moment there is nothing… and then there is something… beauty grace and love. Bringing the invisible spirit of festival into form is worth celebrating each and every day.

4. Crafting a Language of Life

To be in community is an act of language making. And the language of community is a language of life. Words create worlds, and the limits of our language are the limits of our world. Language also helps us see. When we speak of beauty and aliveness, we see and experience more beauty and aliveness. They are invisible until we speak their names.

Creating communityship includes creating a language with which to describe and experience it. A language of life therefore is also a language of relationship, a living language that is deeply rooted in those places most full of life, including the work of craft, of nature and aliveness, of collaboration and our common life together.

The language of community draws from a vocabulary that connects us to the generosity of life through such words as hospitality, welcome, companionship, connection, curiosity, tenderness, hope, belonging and home. These are words that align with the natural organic forces of life and stand in contrast to the more common use of a linear leadership vocabulary that implies that life is our adversary - something we must push against in order to achieve our goals. Words like ‘targets’, ‘impact’, ‘leverage’, ‘force’, ‘evidence’, ‘pressure’, ‘fast’, ‘acceleration’, ‘breakthrough’ and ‘speed’, when examined closely for the tone they set, may have this adversarial effect.

5. Welcoming the Stranger

To be in community is also to welcome the stranger. Communityship includes creating space for the introduction of disruptive ideas. Welcoming the stranger into our midst is the most direct way of acknowledging and respecting our own - and each other’s - vulnerability.

In the face of the unknown we need to resist the comforting temptation to retreat behind the walls with our own tribe and instead invite others into community who may see or behave differently. This includes a place for rebels, artists, dreamers, amateurs, elders, youth and indigenous wisdom - those with no official standing or clear path to leadership and so remain voiceless but who may actually hold the missing key to the puzzle we are seeking to solve.

To summarize, we are designed for communityship. Yet for many, the sense of being in fellowship with one another has been lost. We forget what it means to love and care about our colleagues, our sense of place, of what it means to celebrate together and to welcome the stranger into our midst. And, in turn, we forget how it feels to be inspired and nurtured by their care.

Instead we live and work in a hectic, busy and individualistic world. As Mintzberg said, “communityship is not a word in the English language, but it should be.” And moreover, we should never us the word ‘leadership’ without also discussing communityship.

And it is with this conversation about communityship that our path to a more creative future begins.

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About The Author

Michael Jones
Michael Jones

Michael Jones is a leadership educator, author and Juno-nominated pianist/composer. His most recent book, The Soul of Place: Re-imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community, is the third in a series asking how leaders can re- imagine places as living systems inspired by nature, art, community and our deepening humanity.