From ‘me’ to ‘we’

by Hazel Chapman

The need to build collective leadership is growing ever more urgent and it seems worthy to reflect again on the call for collective responsibility and connection and how, as leaders, we might grow it.

I last wrote on the topic of Collective Leadership in December 2019. At that time, I was triggered to write because we were seeing a splintering of leadership across the globe as ego, emotion and fake facts ruled the day. The growing “us and them” mentality pulling us apart, while the planet and many people suffer. Of course, the world has made a few dramatic turns since then but, despite the global nature of our very serious challenges, we are continuing to see isolationism and individual self-interest rise in society. The ‘me’ growing in place of ‘we’.

How are we shaping this as leaders?

Leadership Development in the 20th century centred largely on individual leadership development – 360s, assessment centres, off the job training programmes and hi-potential programmes. The underlying assumptions were: if we technically understand and work on ourselves, we can achieve what we need to lead; if we individually lead others will follow; if organisations and societies can identify and grow the right leaders, they will succeed. However, something is missing here, and I remain convinced that there in order to break silos, and build compassion, understanding and collaboration across the complexity of our organisations and society, we have to re-look at how we develop leaders of the future.

Is your organisation still over-focusing on the individual, or are you successfully changing the mindset to better grow collective responsibility and leadership?

In 2019 I listed the 5 core behaviours of collective leadership, which remain:

1. Unite around society and collective interests.

Let’s find our common ground again. Keep bringing ourselves and others back to what really matters most. To all of us. Let’s move the conversation from ‘me’ to ‘we’. Again… and again.

2. Focus on what really is. Keep checking facts.

Separate out opinion, denial and wishful thinking from what really is. Seek out and get curious about evidence and observations. Bring to light “what is”.

3. Grow compassion for your enemies and friends alike.

Get to know and better understand your colleagues and your network, especially those you disagree with or who are showing emotion. Seek out difference and as Lencioni said “mine for conflict”. Listen between the lines and ask yourself

  • What is the emotion telling you?
  • What is your and their truth?
  • What do you and they need?

4. Suspend judgment & name difficulty.

Ask yourself what pain or difficulty is leading to any opinion or behaviour you don’t like. Name it without judgement. We all fight when we feel under threat. Having someone else name and acknowledge a difficulty we feel, is a magic key to relaxing tension and creating constructive dialogue.

5. Take personal accountability.

It’s easy to blame others, but it’s a coward’s defence of self and mutual destruction. We (mostly) think we are innocent and mean well, and yet there are so many unintended consequences of our actions. Taking accountability for the part we each play and the consequences, intended or unintended, is the only way we can collectively get to look at and identify all those unintended consequences, and collaborate for better.

Today I would add an important 6th behaviour:

6. Create safe spaces for collective conversations.

The need to consciously create these spaces has been exacerbated by the separation we have all felt over the pandemic and as we now work more remotely as a norm. As you re-think how you bring your people together, think about not just how they will meet, but the quality and direction of the conversation. Curate the conversation for safety, courage and connection.

Let’s grow the dialogue for collective responsibility and understanding, globally, organisationally, locally, socially and, above all, personally. Let’s shift the dial again from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experience.

Hazel Chapman is an experienced executive coach, team coach and leadership development educator. She is the founder and director of  Courage2Lead, a boutique executive development practice, supporting leaders to shape the future today. She is also a member of the Leadership Faculty for Duke Corporate Education, the Institute of Leadership & Management and Emeritus Education and regularly talks and writes on topics that build courageous leadership.