The Unleadership Movement: Lighting fires at the Collective Leadership for Scotland Campfires Festival

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The Unleadership Movement is a growing collaboration of practitioners and scholars from public, private and voluntary sectors who seek to reflect upon leaderly practices that have been illuminated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its mission is to establish how this learning can be taken forward by participants to make a leaderly impact in their organisations and communities.

By understanding and disrupting traditional leadership expectations, for example that heroic leaders must always act with well-reasoned and well-crafted visions and plans to achieve a state of perfection, the concept of unleadership reveals unexplored alternatives. For example, the practice of unleadership places a focus on those who would not normally regard themselves as leaders. These are individuals who are driven to act by their values and determination to make the best contribution that they can with the resources at their disposal and through a latent desire to pay it forward. This energy drives them to act without securing “perfect” knowledge and certainty, with the courage to act into the unknown and to admit to unknowing. They confidently connect and collaborate with others in a spirit of generosity and compassion, and they are not intimidated by the prospects of having to pass responsibility to better placed others when they reach the limit of their resources.  Stories of these acts of unleadership have emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic and have potentially profound implications for the practices of leadership as our new post-Covid working world develops and re-organises itself.

In this spirit, we recently hosted a discussion at the “Leadership Campfires” event organised by Collective Leadership for Scotland. Aiming to recreate the cozy, comfortable feeling of sitting around the campfire for some inspiring storytelling and conversation, we set up our virtual campfire and invited collaborators from around the globe to come and join us. 

Storytelling seemed a natural partner to the idea of a campfire, and one that evokes further the ability to share experiences and ideas through conversations. So, having introduced our ideas about unleadership through an informal conversation between ourselves, we then invited others to tell their stories, first in smaller breakout groups before sharing with the wider group. Whilst their stories were very different in shape and style, they revealed common aspects of experiences of the last eighteen months, and shared common threads about human endeavours, and unleaderly behaviours in such a range of different circumstances. We were enthralled by what we heard and spent time afterwards reflecting on the stories that resonated for us.

The parable of the crab describing how a lonely crab felt isolated on his own sandy beach and wanted to explore further. It was only by finding the strength within himself to explore beyond his boundaries that he then encountered another lone travelling crab and together they found joint empowerment to move beyond where they could have even considered possible, to explore new terrain.”

“The story of a musician who stepped outside of their famous role to inspire groups of non- governmental organisations to co-operate to provide aid to those who needed it most during hardships after natural disasters.”

“The story of a growing sense of place, where the community began to feel a different kind of ownership and value about their local environment and the benefits to everyone of making small changes.

These stories suggested that leaderly practices and the idea of unleadership was something that also comes from within, be that values held dearly, or inner confidence, as well as a reaction to the place we find ourselves in. They revealed that we can embrace the multi-faceted nature of our own identities and use them in different ways to inspire or take leaderly action. And they highlighted that in pushing beyond our real or imagined boundaries, even small acts can make a big difference.

The Collective Leadership for Scotland event was inspiring and ignited lots of little campfires discussing the potential for leadership to be more collective, social and democratic and to consider our own parts in this developing process. We’ve also been lucky enough to run a series of workshop conversations over the last few months prior to this event, funded through a Higher Education Innovation Fund Grant from UWE Bristol. The purpose of these workshops has been to share, develop and disseminate knowledge about the idea of unleadership and to invite others to join the conversation. With that in mind, this is the first in a series of short blogs which will discuss in more detail some of the key ideas involved in practicing unleadership. These will discuss the themes of paying it forward; living with the unknown; catching the wave; and confident connecting and collaborating.

You are all warmly invited to join our movement and contribute to the conversation!

Carol Jarvis, Hugo Gaggiotti, Selen Kars-Unluoglu  & Kay Galpin

LinkedIn: The Unleadership Movement

Twitter: @unleadership_

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