Leadership in self organizing communities

In the “I am your ‘boss’.”, “And I am yours.” conversation, the topic of leadership came up a lot.

There were a few different perspectives from the fishbowl panel. For instance @eric.tolson expressed appreciation for the “leading by following” precept held by the Zapatistas (what do you think of this article Eric?).

The conversation even got down to the semantics of “circle leader” vs “circle coordinator”, which @pcarmona pointed out is translated more as coordinator in Sociocracia Practica, while @TedRau expressed his preference for “leader” in English.

Indeed, many self organizing groups (like Earthaven Ecovillage, which uses modified consensus with supermajority - not sociocracy) use “focalizer”, which was mentioned in the chat, along side other variations.

So… I’m curious to hear from others:

What do you think makes a good leader in a self organizing community?
What practices, traits or tendencies are desirable?
What are the challenges and pitfalls of leading in self organizing communities?
What are the benefits?


I think in addition to what I said, what’s important to me is that being a leader is a role one takes, not a quality. Not sure how to say this well but what I want to avoid is to talk about leadership like only some special people are able to be leaders. I want to see a world where almost everyone takes leadership at a level and in a domain they are comfortable with.
For example, one standard argument is that some people just don’t want to lead (often said to justify the status quo of top-down organizing of course), and I think that’s true but it leaves out one part: some people don’t want to lead in that part of their lives. There are plenty of people who are great leaders in another part of their lives (for example, parents, or volunteer places, or another job) and then just want to lie low in the paid part of their lives.

It’s hard to talk about leadership without accounting for context.

Depending on whether one is in a horizontal context or a traditionally hierarchical context, what is important to me shifts. In a horizontal context, people tend to be more hesitant to lead, and I see the downsides of that. For example, if a leader could look at a discussion in a meeting and then after the meeting sits down and thinks what next steps to take and then brings a proposal to a next meeting, that’s leadership to me, and it’s sorely sorely needed in many horizontal context where the tendency is to mull things over yet again in a group. That simply takes so much time - just because I’m volunteering doesn’t mean I want to waste my time with tasks that are more easily done by one person.
On the other hand, in a traditionally hierarchical context, I’d want those in leadership to listen more and to explore more together instead of thinking they know.

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