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Lessons on leading together

by Andy Brown
Follow me on Twitter: @andybrownMN

As a new YNPN-TC volunteer, I was thrilled when board member Lauren asked if I would be willing to help with the fall Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) lunch series. The theme would be “leading together,” a component of YNPN’s vision. “Absolutely!” I replied in an email peppered with exclamation marks.

Then I froze.

What did I know about shared leadership? It occurred to me that this kind of collaboration was probably happening all around me but I wasn’t aware of it. What groups and organizations (aside from YNPN) were leading together? What does this actually look like? I wanted to know so I could adopt this value and practice in my own life.

The series was enlightening. During the monthly ELN lunches, we heard from publishers, entrepreneurs, organizers and performers about what it means to break down traditional hierarchies and lead side by side. Attendees provided lively discussion and insightful comments, some of which had guest speakers thinking about a challenge in a new light. Some of my key takeaways include:

When in doubt, “Yes, and…”: Molly Chase of Huge Improv Theater offered advice on how to handle difficult people and situations. Nothing kills a scene (or conversation) faster than someone who offers only criticism—or nothing at all. Keep the momentum going by building on the ideas in the room, rather than shutting people down.

C-A-T: Communication, Accountability and Trust: MPLSzine’s Chris Cloud shared his recipe for shared leadership. While Chris admitted to making this mnemonic device up on the spot, it’s a handy way to remember the values at play when leading together. In the weeks since this conversation, I’ve drawn many a CAT face on my notepad during meetings as an adorable reminder of this lesson.

Learning opportunities > quality control: Lolla Mohammed Nur of Twin Cities Daily Planet answered a tough question about how the publication handles contributions that aren’t up to standards. Rather than toss the article or ask for a re-write, she stressed the importance of sitting down with the writer to understand their approach and to explain what they are trying to achieve with the story and as a publication. These quick meetings usually result in finding common ground and can help create an environment where everyone feels like a valued contributor.

It’s democracy, not anarchy: John Levy of the Minnesota Food Truck Association and Jim Diley of Fulton Beer stressed the point that some level of self-regulation is necessary when leading collaboratively, especially during times of growth.

I’m looking forward to this month’s ELN lunch on December 20th, where we’ll be joined by Students Today Leaders Forever about how they institutionalized shared leadership in their organization. Until then, be assured that I’ll be working on my CAT doodles.

Tags: News

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