The dynamic of co-creative leadership: leading is following, and following is leading
What if our view of leadership is focusing far too much on the qualitiesof the individual leader or leadership team ? These sure are important, but by far not enough to determine what makes for effective and impactful leadership.
This is because leadership is never unilateral. It is co-created. It is the relationship and dynamic between leader(s) and follower(s), and the capacity of both sides to LEAD AND FOLLOW. In this sense leading is following, and following is leading.
Let’s take a closer look at this, taking a trip outside the corporate world: Argentinian Tango, a dance I love and have practiced for many years ,requires exactly this co-created leadership between leading and following. And it shows precisely the dynamics of successfulleadership – not only on the dance floor but similarly in the life of business and organization.
In Tango, you have clear roles of leader and follower. It is dynamic rather than pre-set, and requires close interaction between leader andfollower. Like real life in organizations.
As leader, your role is to give the vision of the dance, to decide the directions, and to communicate them clearly to your partner. Ambiguous signals confuse your partner and create an unsatisfying dance. You also hold space for your partner, in a way that feels both safe and empowering, so that they can dance at their best. Yet while you are leading, you also have to listen and follow: to the music and its rhythm; the space and the other dancers; and most of all, your partner –the impulses they give, their abilities and desires. Leaders who do not listen to the music and the space and who do not follow their partner kill the dance – it becomes uninspired, rigid, and they fail to lead successfully.
As follower, you are attentive to and follow the directions of the partnerwho is leading. You are not responsible for giving the vision anddirection of the dance. But far from being a passive taker ofinstructions, you have your share in the co-created leadership: you are100% present to the dance, leaning in with your full presence ratherthan making yourself small. With your body and words, you show yourpartner your ideas, wishes and capacities, and you give suggestions onanything you feel will enhance the dance – direction, pace, or choice ofmovements. And you too contribute to creating a dynamic and safespace for the dance. Your partner leads better when they feel yourconnection to them, and that you too are keeping an eye on the spaceand the other dancers.
Let’s take this back into the world of organizational leadership:
As leader, your role is to give the vision and direction, and to communicate them with clarity. You create a safe environment in which people can work at their best. And at the same time, you have to listen and be responsive: to the trends, opportunities and challenges emerging in the external environment; to the stakeholders; and most certainly – tothe people in your organization and your team. Leaders who mainly move in the “leading” part of their role will create an organization that is rigid rather than pro-active, their organization will lack creativity,and their people will not be able to give their best. At best – mediocre performance is obtained.
As follower, you are attentive to and follow the vision and directions your leader is giving you. But a good “follower”, i.e. a high performing team member, does not only follow directions. They co-create leadership by giving their 100% presence, by communicating clearly their intentions, their capabilities, their wishes and their actions. They are attentive to the environment, and alert their leader to opportunities and risks. They take initiative to propose actions and alternatives. Andthey contribute to creating and maintaining the human connection – to their leader and within the team. Staff who passively follow miss anessential part of their contribution.
How do you experience co-created leadership in your organization or team ? What helps both leaders and followers to make it happen ? What has been your personal best moment of this co-created leadership ?
I would love to hear from you.
And if you want to expand your leadership strength, join us for Programme Artemis, a new and groundbreaking leadership programme my colleagues and I in ADAPTAA have just launched. To learn more about the programme and how to enroll,