Blessed Unrest in How We Do Leadership

This statement is the premise on which Paul Hawken bases his new book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.

This movement is a new form of community and a new form of story. At what point in the future will the existence of 2 million, 3 million or even 5 million citizen-led organizations shift our awareness to the possibility that we will have fundamentally changed the way human beings govern and organize themselves on earth? What are the characteristics of leadership required when power arises instead of descends? What would a democracy look like that was not ruled by a dominant minority? What would a world feel like that created solutions to our problems from the ground up? What if we are entering a transitional phase of human development where what works is invisible because most heads are turned to the past? What if some very basic values are being reinstilled worldwide and are fostering complex social webs of meaning that represent the future of governance? These are but a few of the questions collectively posed by a movement that has yet to recognize it is a movement.

Hawken makes a sweeping and convincing case for a new movement that merges environmentalism and social justice. I would like to make a more modest case for blessed unrest in how we do leadership. We are changing the way we govern and organize ourselves. Some call it collaborative leadership. Others call it distributed leadership. Whatever term you prefer, you can see the cultural shifts in organizations, especially in nonprofits and associations where how to share power has always been an issue. For many years, association executives tried to divide associations into two types: volunteer/member or staff driven. Today the challenge is how to share the leadership role effectively with greater engagement of all stakeholders. With our communication and collaboration technologies today, we have great capacities to engage in open dialogue and coordinate work.

We struggle to match this technological capacity with new human behaviors. It requires a lot of openness and maturity for people to work out collaborative leadership in real time. It gets a lot easier if all the leaders in any system of distributed power share a common vision of what success is. A formal vision and strategic plan or simply making it a discipline to articulate what success looks like for your organization can help you stay faithful to your intent and to one another. When your vision isn’t clear or you simply fail to discuss what a successful outcome looks like, you are sure to be pulling in different directions with one another and eroding the trust and relationships that collaborative leadership require. If we can mature in these very human ways, we just might see that fundamental change Hawken forecasts in how we govern and organize ourselves on earth.