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Lessons from Healthcare Reform: The Need for a New Leadership MindsetThis is a featured page

Author: Deborah Meehan
Date: 4/14/10
Original Post: Pegasus Communications Blog

As the debates raged over healthcare reform in an attempt to break the political gridlock on Capitol Hill, I wondered what had happened to "yes we can." The election of Barack Obama was an energizing time that mobilized high levels of participation across the political spectrum. Change was a big theme. Presidential candidate Obama's rallying cry reminded many of us that we were a part of making change happen.

During the campaign, tens of thousands joined meet-ups, used online tools for campaign organizing, and contributed small donations. But what happened to this active engagement among Obama supporters once he was elected? While there is much to learn from the 2008 campaign about how to create the conditions for self-organization and how to leverage social networks, I would like to focus on how our mental models about leadership are limiting our ability to achieve breakthrough change.

Our current thinking about leadership, whether in communities or boardrooms, is heavily influenced by the idea of the hero. We generally think of leadership as the skills, qualities, and behavior of an individual who exerts influence over others to take action or achieve a goal using his or her position, authority, or charisma. Our attachment to the heroic model is one plausible factor for why high levels of civic engagement did not continue among Obama supporters after the election. People who participated in the campaign retreated and expected the president to deliver on change by virtue of his office/authority, without their continued involvement.

In this way, the culture of heroic individuals is undercutting our ability to mobilize ourselves for large-scale change. We cannot approach systems-level transformation one leader at a time. We can reach more people and tackle bigger problems by investing our energy and resources in strengthening leadership processes that support organizations, communities, and networks to take collective action.

My colleagues and I have joined forces with key innovators in the leadership field to promote leadership as a process through which individuals and groups identify and act on behalf of a larger purpose, such as greater equality and the well-being of people and the planet. We believe leadership as a process is grounded in relationships that are fluid, dynamic, and non-unilateral.

Although the dominant model of leadership in the U.S is deeply rooted in individualism, numerous other cultures understand it as collective and relational. Intuitively, many of us have experienced the power of shared leadership through teams, sports, and music groups, but we have not brought this experience to how we think about leadership.

Imagine a different way for how we could become involved in the topics that we care most about, such as healthcare, the environment, or the economy. To support our engagement in Transformational Changeleadership that can tackle systems-level change, we need to focus on how individuals and groups are connecting, organizing, thinking systemically, bridging, and learning as a dynamic leadership process.

Those of us looking to sustain our involvement in the issues of the day need to build relationships and shared commitment with others around our common concerns. We need to develop transparent communication pathways and employ organizing (and self-organizing) principles and structures to set direction, plan, allocate resources, make decisions, and mobilize action within networks, organizations, and movements. We need to inform our change strategies with a systems perspective that helps us identify patterns and feedback loops, intervene using leverage points, and continually learn and adapt our strategies. This is the type of leadership process that will help us to implement "yes we can."

Latest page update: made by nataliallc , Aug 4 2010, 4:04 PM EDT (about this update About This Update Edited by nataliallc

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