Book Review: The Art of Leading Collectively

The Art of Leading Collectively: Co-Creating a Sustainable, Socially Just Future by Petra Kuenkel is a book about the art of collaborating for a sustainable future. Collaboration is a form of co-creation.1 Kuenkel reminds us that everything we do, or do not do, contributes to the co-creation of the world.2 What we need to do is to co-create a better future that is both sustainable and socially just.3

Collaboration & Effective Action
Collaboration is not only paramount, but is the only way to successfully address the challenges we face.4 Isolated action needs to be replaced by collective leadership for the common good.5 We need to learn how to collaborate and take effective action locally and globally. The Collective Leadership Compass describes the competencies needed for successful collaboration. The compass consists of six dimensions and is based on years of experience.6 The purpose of the compass is not theoretical, but practical.7

Co-creation & Aliveness
Collective leadership breaks with the dichotomy of leaders and followers.8 Co-creation works best in a collaborative space where there is ”life” and a sense of aliveness. We all know how it feels to be alive. And we are intrinsically linked to the order of life within and around us. We are continuously being created by this order, as well as participate in creating this order.9

The Collective Leadership Compass
Petra Kuenkel has over the years identified which competencies are needed to shift people into a more collaborative space.10 None of these competencies are new.11 They are as old as humankind.12 It is the combination of them that makes a difference.13 The six dimensions of the Collective Leadership Compass are:14

Dimension Competency Attention
Future Possibilities Shape reality toward a sustainable future. Focus on opportunities, awaken passion, measure progress.
Engagement Build effective collaboration ecosystems. Build engagement, foster cohesion, deliver results.
Innovation Create novelty and find solutions. Nourish collective generation of ideas, pursue mastery, stay open to change.
Humanity Reach into one another’s humanness. Deepen awareness of reality, integrate aspirations, embrace perspectives.
Collective Intelligence Harvest difference for progress. Attend to quality of conversations, foster diversity, reflect into action.
Wholeness See the larger picture and stay connected with the common good. Connect with ourselves and others, enhance strengths, use gifts and assets.

Inner & Outer Paths
In building the capacity for leading collectively we need to travel an inner path and an outer path together with others. Traveling the inner path prepares us for the outer path. Traveling the outer path strengthens the inner path. Underlying both paths are our capacity to love, create, collaborate, reflect, organize, build, and to bring forth the world together.15

Intention & Urgency
Intention driven by urgency creates an energy field that attracts people and organizes life.16 The biggest investment in the beginning is fostering trust and visualizing a common goal. The capacity for initiating, creating, leading, and sustaining meaningful futures is within all of us.17 Collective leadership in work is typically characterized by:18

  • A big challenge.
  • An urgent issue.
  • People with different backgrounds, expertise, and opinions.
  • Conversations about the way forward.
  • Exchange of viewpoints.
  • Careful listening (even to what is not said).
  • Focus on the outcome.
  • Learning.

We operate as a network when we lead collectively.19 Dialogue and acute listening skills increase mutual understanding and respect. Outer action and inner development are dependent on each other and have a reciprocal effect both individually and collectively.20 Decentralized networks with timely access to information are not only able to adapt to change, but also generate change.21

Trust & Cohesion
Trust is co-created22 and helps the cohesion of the group.23 Relationships, communication, and collaboration are cornerstones of sustainability.24 Mental models shift and change through conversations. Awareness precedes insights, and insights precede action.25 Meaningful relationships are a cornerstone for better co-creation.26 Creativity is contagious and self-reinforcing.27

Humanity & Compassion
We are all part of life’s inherent tendency for creative unfolding.28 The future is constantly emerging through encounters among people.29 An important feature of natural systems is the ability to connect in networks with continuous internal communication.30 When people see the humanness in another person, they develop compassion that often leads to change.31  Developing our own humanity and taking care of the whole planet mutually reinforce each other. Our underlying humanity connects us all across the world.32

Mindfulness & Perception
We become more human as we become more mindful of who we are and how we have come to be. It frees our perception when we become aware of our fears, our need for self-protection, and our desire for recognition. And it helps us to relax, respect differences, and deal with conflicts.33 This is about appreciating the human being, the interests and the story. Then we can talk about the issues.34

If problem solving and conflict resolution in groups is increasingly important in our complex world, then the skill of dialogue becomes one of the most fundamental of human skills.35 Dialogue is as old as humankind.36 It allows the integration of different perspectives and interests.37

If we want to change the world: The first step is developing compassion for how people are. The second step is identifying the human competencies and building on their potential. The third step is practicing being together differently.38 The seeds of collective leadership are everywhere. Bringing about change is most often about setting free what is already there.39

Leadership & Values
We are all on a leadership journey that involves deeper values. It’s important that we align our actions with these values and the associated knowing. It’s a knowing which reaches us through people, nature, or whatever which resonates with our hearts. It doesn’t reach us through the intellect. We know it when we feel it.40 We intuitively know the ingredients for leading collectively. We need to live them consciously.41

Rules & Structures
The fact that we create the future together seems self-evident. Institutions, tools, and measurable results are important, but what people do and how they think, feel, work, and communicate are more important.42 Rules and structures are important, but overly formal structures drain the energy.43 Structures become an impediment if they take precedence over content.44 People need to connect and engage with one another in a meaningful way, and not just because the structures force them to.45

The most ignored aspect of collaborative change is the transformation of individual consciousness.46 Collaboration changes the way we see the world.47 We tend to resort to control by establishing structures, and forget that it’s human connection that will create a future we want to live in. Our contribution lack strength and spirit when our passion is missing.48

Creating Life
When passion is lost, we need to be willing to look into what we do not know or understand. It requires courage, and a willingness to listen to ourselves and others.49 Reconnecting with our heart and passion is a journey with no final destination.50 Conscious collaboration is a form of creating life. Whether we manage to bring a sufficient degree of aliveness determines whether we become successful or not.

Petra Kuenkel is very experienced and has worked with helping people to collaborate for two decades. The book is full of real-life stories.51 Petra Kuenkel concludes that we know deep inside how collective leadership works.52 The Collective Leadership Compass is the tool used to navigate deeper into each of the six dimensions of the collaboration journey. I particularly like that Petra Kuenkel not only discusses collaboration in terms of tools and structures, but also emphasizes the importance of creating ”life” and aligning action with deeper human values. Collaboration ultimately rests on our humanness. It’s a great book well worth reading!

1 Petra Kuenkel, The Art of Leading Collectively: Co-Creating a Sustainable, Socially Just Future (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016), p.2.
2 Ibid., pp.2–3.
3 Ibid., p.16.
4 Ibid., p.4.
5 Ibid., p.5.
6 Ibid., p.6.
7 Ibid., p.59.
8 Ibid..
9 Ibid., p.15.
10 Ibid., pp.16, 53.
11 Ibid., p.16.
12 Ibid., p.49.
13 Ibid., p.16.
14 Ibid., pp.17, 60, 86.
15 Ibid., p.23.
16 Ibid., p.27.
17 Ibid., p.32.
18 Ibid., pp.32–33.
19 Ibid., p.35.
20 Ibid., p.41.
21 Ibid., p.227.
22 Ibid., p.47.
23 Ibid., p.46.
24 Ibid., p.42.
25 Ibid., p.45.
26 Ibid., p.94.
27 Ibid., p.97.
28 Ibid., p.50.
29 Ibid., p.51.
30 Ibid., p.57.
31 Ibid., p.64.
32 Ibid., p.66.
33 Ibid., p.102.
34 Ibid., p.106.
35 Ibid., p.107. See also Edgar Schein on dialogue, culture, and organizational learning, Reflections, 4(4), pp.27–38.
36 Ibid..
37 Ibid., p.199.
38 Ibid., p.117.
39 Ibid., p.120.
40 Ibid., p.129.
41 Ibid., p.131.
42 Ibid., p.151.
43 Ibid., p.169.
44 Ibid., pp.247–248.
45 Ibid., p.249.
46 Ibid., p.253.
47 Ibid., p.254.
48 Ibid., p.256.
49 Ibid., p.257.
50 Ibid., p.258.
51 Ibid., p.7.
52 Ibid., p.14.

Related post:
Book Review: Mind and Heart


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