Horizontal Leadership & the Potential to Transform Society


What is the power of effective leadership? What is defined as effective and do we have it in this country?

'A leader always leaves a trail to follow' ~ Qoute in the peguin picture


As I build the BIPOC Sustainable Tiny Art House Community I am being called to reflect on my leadership especially as a woman of color, a maker of art, a mother of creation, a heartfelt magician of transformation, and a diligent curioust of all things. What does leadership mean to me? How can I utilize my leadership skills to leverage power to lift up those in my life especially those open to learning, to growing and excelling as a collective towards the common good of all beings? Those ready to listen, to understand, and to grow together without judgment, without assumption, open to the liminal space between this or that? Seeking to be both &?


In the past few months, I have been seriously looking at my leadership style and how it affects those around me. I have come to notice that it is difficult for me to lead when I am overworked, not meditating, or simply just out of energy. I have come to understand that in order to lead I must not block love, I must not block blessings due to fear, or due to feeling like I must have all the answers. Understanding my intuition in a different way has also led to the examination of what I call the courage to lead. How do I speak up when I witness uneven work-life balance in others? In myself? How do I gain the ability to 'stand' for myself and ask for help when I can't see the forest for the trees?' In structuring an organization into a horizontal leadership format I am being called to truly 'give up' perceived power to disseminate it horizontally amongst the many skill sets on our team and trust that others have the ability to lead, encourage and see things that I can not. In doing so I feel I am stepping into uncharted territory. In this country, we are taught from the time of birth to NOT rock the boat or to hand off our power to a hierarchical structure of leadership which states there is a structure of command and power so you better just go along with 'it.'


I have never been one for 'just going along with it.'


As I gain strength in my ability to follow my intuition, I am learning that 'just going along with it' makes more sense when there is a 'collective understanding' of honest intention followed by swift positive action, which IS something I can trust. But when it comes to following rules for the sake of following the rules, I beg to differ. Just going along with it, just doesn't cut it. In the current paradigm of our time when leaders never have my best interests at heart and make promises they never keep, not once, not twice, but for decades on end, just going along with 'it' seems counterproductive to not only my lively hood but the livelihood of generations of Americans and animals on the planet.


As we move out of the past industrial complexes into a more just future for all beings on the planet I am being called to deeply understand my role in this theatre of hierarchical leadership types. I feel like feeling my way through it is the only route I can go as I have no models that truly speak to my sense of self. This means I will make mistakes and that I just might not get it right the first time and that the practice of forgiveness not only for myself but towards others will have to play a role. I sense there is a better way of understanding this and I ask that my guardians, both dead and alive, guide me on this path. I sense that I will have to bring my own truth and build a container in which folks feel safe enough to be themselves no matter the cost, especially if they are to feel safe enough to act on equality as a team. This to me means stepping back to understand that each being has its own truth and that my truth may not be their truth. That my deep understanding can only be shadowed by their own understanding and together we can walk hand in hand with some sense of relative caring for each other no matter our differences.


When I speak about horizontal leadership I am speaking about the ability to trust the process in which we find ourselves toward making choices together not only in the workplace but also in our personal lives. Balancing what we 'think' we should do or be based on rules made by others, previous generations, and what we 'know' we should do based on heart, is a very difficult balance, especially when we are taught as Americans to trust the process, not ourselves. But, for me, it is one balancing dance I am willing to test and to challenge in myself in order to rise above the current systems that are just not working for the good of all beings. Horizontal to me means instituting opportunities for collective ownership, shared leadership, intentional learning where all take accountability for the choices and decisions made in the organization. Where questions like, 'is it good enough to move forward?' 'Is it good enough for now?' or 'Can I live with this decision until there is a better one or until we grow into a better one?' become the norm. The question that has haunted me for twenty years, is this, 'How do we create new systems that work for all beings on the planet, when we are expected to uphold the only systems we know do not work...socialism, authoritarianism, capitalism, monarchs?' How do we coexist when the world's populace is governed by leaders who pretend to care about the plight of civilization but once in power, give up all empathy for the rest of us? Is it even possible to make a positive proactive change in the face of such power? Am I delusional or what my friends call, 'just another hippie, searching for love?'


Noticing when folks are overworked not able to speak out or asking them to take time off and paying them for that time off to get their head straight is also a part of this idea. Sometimes, folks just want to do the right thing, I know this is an assumption that most may not agree with, but I would rather walk in the world knowing that people ARE trying their best and that their best may not be MY best, but that doesn't mean they are not trying and that doesn't mean it is not their best. And so, if I lead with this assumption, that folks want to be good at what they do, but just don't have the tools or resources, how then does that explain what's going on in our political realm these days? For one, it has always been my belief that in order to even get a political position one must first be required to live the life of the lowest (financially speaking) person in that civilization - what would it look like if every politician was required to be an Americorps member for two years before gaining any political office? If you do not know what an Americorp or Vistacorps is, it's a national opportunity to serve your country in a poor neighborhood working and living on no money or barely any money. I was a Vista Americorps and it taught me many things about the community. About caring for others and understanding the system of our country at a root level.


Sometimes, I feel like the systems we've created do not allow the rich to delve into the effect and the outcomes of their decisions in relation to the poor in our country. So again I ask you, 'What if leadership meant, in order to lead we had to give up our identity of leadership as power and that it meant literally serving?' Serving under the exact conditions in which you EXPECT others to thrive?


I also feel that in times of crisis some may not be able to see that they are headed for crisis even when you can see it for them. Then how do you approach this as a leader? Or another scenario is when you support someone and they turn on you not recognizing that you truly had their best intentions at hand? It is a very complicated issue being a leader in the USA, especially as an African American woman. Why you may ask? Over the past few decades, I have found myself in a state of leadership brutality, which, unfortunately, is the guiding contemporary model of leadership, where it is common and expected to bash leaders even when they are trying their best. We do this for multiple reasons. Yet, for black women, it is even worse. The expectations are mind-numbing and relentless.


The current system of hierarchy sets leaders up for failure. It states and assumes that to be the leader or even strive to become the leader you must know what you are doing without fail, and in order to make those hard decisions, you must do it without empathy from others. There must not be a 'follower' in order for you to be where you are and you must have attained some form of 'knowledge' that has allowed you to be where you are. This framework is not only detrimental to those who are natural leaders but to those who do not have a 'natural' tendency towards leading or could become leaders of tomorrow and should be.


It is my belief that we are ALL leaders and once a person finds their passion they already have the ability to lead no matter how much they know. It is just a measure of honing one's style of leadership. Practicing the tools of ethical leadership, caring leadership, empathetic leadership. Building, strengthening, and gaining the courage and determination to lead. If at birth we flipped this model on its head and assume instead that all children have the ability to lead even before we enter into grade school, possibly it would be a much more pleasant society, possibly the planet. There might even still be art in schools and various routes for students to take in high school based on their passion instead of teaching to the test, with no avenues towards the exploration of your actual heart's desire and path in life. Under this scenario, the underlying assumption would be, 'Everyone is of value, we just need to allow ways for folks to explore what they feel their value to society is.' Yes, I know, it sounds kinda mockingbirdish...But, before I go into that, in more detail, I want to explain what I mean by lead.


To lead is to honor those around you, to take intentional action for the common good of all beings, not a select few or even a select species. To lead means to have courage in the face of conflict and bring a sense of questioning to the situation, instead of judgment, in order to gain a better understanding. It is not coming in with an already set understanding, belief system, or intention and then implementing without critical analysis or story evaluation. This is where I feel our country is today. I do not have the answer and I do not assume that my definition of leadership 'IS' the way. All I'm saying is that there must be a 'better way,' and that I am willing to explore that through experimentation in my own life. The sense of critical analysis and storytelling has been lost in every sector, especially politics. It's like we have taken 20 steps forward and 19 steps backward. With all of this technology, we have let go of the ability to reason on the grounds of love, empathy, and common sense. Especially, critical analysis regarding what is just and balanced.


To be effective as a leader...currently, means to make decisions, implement those decisions and watch the outcome, build your statistics and not take into account the long-term historical context of the decisions being made. I want to know you more fully, at the level of concern for you and how those decisions will implicate, impact or inform your ability to live. The ability of your children's children to not only live but thrive. I feel this for ALL Americans, aside from political affiliation, religious context, or deviation from the norm. This seems to me to be MORE effective than taking actions on topics or situations for which you have no experience or context and especially not willing to learn about or experience firsthand. But how does one get that experience or context to be able to make better-informed choices that will allow for the growth of our species? And who determines what 'growth' means for the longevity of the human species?


That leads me to the other aspects of future forward-focused leadership models.

In the coming decade we will be faced with immense complications, not only in climate change (energy destabilization, lack of water, and natural resources) but also in social systems (which we have already started to witness, with border crossings and mass migrations, deep depressions in entire cultures, illusions that the norm was always normal.) Culture shift at the intersection of empathy and the ability to hear, and deeply understand when, how, and why to act will all become increasingly imperative for those in leadership positions unless we start to build every individual in our country up as leaders from birth. The more society becomes unstable the more each region will be called upon to act locally because the ability to act nationally will become decreasingly able. We will be forced to depend on what's closest to us, our own neighborhoods, our own communities. I feel intuitively there is another way. If only we as beings on the planet can stop, look, assess and listen to each other from the heart space.


But how? I think the solutions may lie in collective leadership, shared leadership, empathetic leadership, and strategic leadership models. No longer can consensus or majority rule or dictatorship styles be the only tools in our bag. We are moving into a period in human history where 'HIS' story is not the only story available to us and as leaders, we must incorporate 'OUR' stories into a more viable way of seeing the story of our past to be able to better inform the future. But this can only come about when we decide that leadership is available to all, that leadership IS the story of all. That THIS story is a human story and finding ways to take your experience into my experience (and vice versa) creates the alternative as a collective experience. This doesn't mean that I accept all that you do or say or you accept all that 'I' do or say. This does not mean that the 'I' becomes you or individualistically 'you,' become me. What it does mean is that our identities become exposed to one another in a shared understanding that increases our awareness of your struggle AND my struggle, your victories AND my victories become paramount as a route to a deep-rooted understanding of each other and places these into direct connection to one another in such a way as to create positive PATHS to understanding our collective experience together and being able to take this collective understanding to take positive proactive action towards a more just society. This to me IS leadership and it is the bridge of understanding at a deeper more empathetic level that will allow for our country to grow into a more humane society, one where every person is seen as valuable.


This type of shift could transform workplaces, could transform communities - where the resume is not THE tool for hiring, where the TEST is not the entrance into college, or where the value of a persons identity is not wrapped up in their ability to make the cut, but in their ability to empathize, love and listen to the 'other.'

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