Changing Roles in Changing Times

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Thanks to Jesse Lyn Stoner for inviting me to post Change Your Story, Change Your Organization  to the Seapoint Center blog. It elaborates on five roles highlighted in the Berkana Institute’s Two Loops Model of Change.

Some reflections on the implications of these roles for journalists is on the Journalism That Matters site: Stories for Navigating the Waves of Change.


Two Loop Theory
Adapted from Berkana Institute’s Two Loops Theory of Change




Journalism That Matters: The Diversity Principle

Post #5 of my series on journalism is now up.

Navigating Through Uncertainty: The Diversity Principle

Innovation demands diversity, using our differences creatively.

Image by Steven Wright,
Image by Steven Wright,


Read the other posts in this series:




Journalism That Matters: The Possibility Principle

This next post in my journalism series,

Journalism for Navigating Uncertainty: The Possibility Principle

is getting to the heart of where my work in system change and my work with journalism really overlaps!

Check it out.

From JTM’s Pacific Northwest 2010 Conference Report, by Steven Wright


Journalism That Matters: What’s Possible Now?

After years of working with journalists through Journalism That Matters, a nonprofit that I co-founded with three career journalists, I’m finally offering my perspective on what’s possible in the emerging news and information ecosystem.

Check it out:

What do we need from journalism?

Image by Steven Wright,
Image by Steven Wright,




Recent Talks

I’ve done two interviews recently on Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity.

Someday I’ll get used to the sound of my own voice!

Image by David Kessler,

Leadership in a Networked World

A colleague sent me a video of birds flocking yesterday.  He was excited by the implications for self-organizing in human systems, asking what are the leadership mechanisms behind flocking?

Image by David Kessler

Since finishing Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of leadership in networks.  Social networks have some parallels to flocks.

Think about the difference between pack animals, with alpha leaders keeping others in line versus birds, ants, bees, or other animals that seem to function with no one in charge.  These interactions call on different leadership skills than rising to the top of a pyramid.

What can we learn from flocks, swarms, hives, and other leader-full forms of organizing? More, how can human consciousness enhance the effectiveness of these collective forms of leadership?  We live in an age in which networks are an emerging means for organizing.  They are more responsive, resilient, creative, and let’s face it, more fun than most hierarchical organizations I’ve experienced.  Over time, hierarchies may well give way to networks as our dominant organizational form.  Understanding new leadership skills will help us transition.

Image by David Kessler,

I’ve observed that leadership in social networks is a more multi-threaded phenomenon than hierarchical leadership.  For example, traditionally, we rely on a few people to make strategic decisions for everyone else.  Increasing complexity – a more diverse public, greater access to a broader range of perspectives, technological innovations affecting scale and scope of just about everything – makes this strategy less effective.  No longer can a few people with relatively similar backgrounds and perspectives make the best choices for a whole system.  Whether companies, communities, or social systems, like health care or education, networks call forth new approaches to decision making and leadership.

The Nature of Networks

Social networks are loosely connected, brought together largely by common purpose and personal passion.  Following the boss’ orders just doesn’t work in networks.  So how does anything get done?  More basic, how do people know what needs doing?

Leadership in networks is relational, collective, and emergent.  As I’ve read more about networks, two dynamics rise to the top when thinking about how they function:

  • hubs form and evolve; and
  • links connect.

How do these dynamics play out in social networks?  My experience with network leadership has been influenced by a seminal experience with the Spirited Work learning community.  Spirited Work met for an extended weekend four times a year over seven years.  We met in Open Space, a process that supports groups in self-organizing around what matters to them.  After the first couple years, the four founders did something quite unique: they stepped down as the sole leaders and invited anyone who felt called to do so to step in to steward the community.  In other words, leadership became self-selected.  It seemed such a great learning laboratory that I stepped in.

We, the stewards, became a hub for the Spirited Work community.  We discovered that whatever challenges existed in the larger system showed up in our meetings.  Stewarding was the intensive course!  As we brought our diverse perspectives and interests together, we learned to listen for what was beneath the dissonance of our differences because it contained the seeds of breakthrough.

For example, early in our life, we had a financial crisis, discovering our income wasn’t covering our costs.  A philosophic clash arose between paying our bills and welcoming whoever wished to participate regardless of their financial means.  The larger purpose of Spirited Work – learning to link spirit to practical action on behalf of the community and the world – held us together as we worked through our differences.  Ultimately, someone suggested holding an auction to raise funds.  A few people took on the task and at our next gathering, the auction debuted.  Not only did we clear half our debt in that first auction, people had so much fun sharing their gifts on behalf of the community, it became a regular activity.  And our financial woes were permanently resolved.

Leadership and Network Hubs

From the outside, hubs in a network look a lot like hierarchical organizations.  They are groups of people organized to accomplish something together.  That makes it easy to confuse leadership of a hub with hierarchical leadership, thinking the same rules apply.  Not!  Giving orders, chain of command, top-down decision making doesn’t function when people choose whether to participate.

Hubs form because people are attracted to them.  Hubs grow when people are drawn to the purpose and/or the people and believe that they can both give and/or receive something of value.  The remarkable communities that maintain the Wikipedia or fill the Open Source software movement are examples of networks producing real-world benefit.

Leadership and Network Links

Link leadership is elusive because it doesn’t fit our traditional thinking about leadership. Why is connecting people or organizations a form of leadership? If you want breakthroughs, interactions among those who don’t usually meet is an essential ingredient. And when hubs connect to hubs, ideas can spread like wildfire.

While sometimes those connections are random, as often, they’re the work of people with a knack.  Malcolm Gladwell famously identified three types of link leadership in his best seller The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. He called them connectors, mavens, and salesmen.

Hubs and links attract different personality types.  As someone who tends to be part of stewarding a hub, I have developed a complex relationship with linkers.  They come late to meetings (if they show up at all).  They often bring dissonant ideas from “out there”.  They never really seem to fully belong to the hub.  So they’re easy to discount.  And doing so is always unfortunate.  And I’ve discovered, they often feel unappreciated.

I’m learning to love linkers!  They are late or seem outside because they spend their time with those at the margins.  They are often the source of new ideas or differences that can attract others who, in the abstract are desirable, but aren’t getting involved.  Skilled linkers learn how to bring outside perspectives and participants in graciously.

There’s So Much More To Say!

I could keep writing because there’s so much more to say.  And even more to learn. Still, I’ll stop for now, knowing my understanding of the multiple skills and aspects of leadership in networks will continue to evolve.


The Challenge of Power

Thanks to Google Alerts, I discovered a great review of Engaging Emergence by Ron Lubensky, from the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy in Sydney, Australia.

An excerpt:

This is the sort of easy-to-read book that you want to leave lying around so others will find it accidentally. Maybe they’ll recognise, as Peggy hopes, that modern life is not a predictable, steady state that is occasionally and annoyingly disrupted. Rather, life should be celebrated as an evolution of surprises, change and adaptation. Peggy provides us with a straightforward roadmap about how to constructively steward positive change.

In the last paragraph, Ron raised an issue about power (bolding is mine):

Engaging emergence requires that we talk to one another in a civil manner with mutual commitment. Perhaps wisely she has sidestepped the thorny challenge of motivating people who exercise power to graciously and generously devolve their authority to a shared enterprise. The book presumes that a situation where the practice can be exercised poses no political barriers to emergent change. Unfortunately, this would be a rare occurrence. So just like the enterprise of deliberative democracy, which requires the practice of engaging emergence, the initial challenge is just getting to step 1.

Illustration by Steven Wright

Since the challenge Ron raises is no doubt a common one, thought I’d share my exchange with him:

Thanks for your reflections on Engaging Emergence. I’m delighted at your enthusiastic response!

And I want to comment on the challenge you raised of motivating people with power. There are virtually always political barriers! Shame on me that I wasn’t more explicit on how to address them.

What I have found to be true is that when the issue faced is more important than their position, people in power positions will engage. In other words, they’ll step up when:

  • the situation reaches the point that they realize that they can’t solve it alone;
  • it is critical to their success; and
  • they’ve found a partner to work with that they’re willing to trust.

Essentially, these are the conditions when anyone will engage. It’s just that people with more to lose tend to wait longer. By then, the situation is really messy and they’re desperate.

I’ve experienced this shift in government agencies, like the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), and in organizations, like the Boeing Company.  As Chris Innes of NIC put it so eloquently, they stepped up to “make it up as they went along” when doing the same old thing was not worth the trouble.

Posted by Peggy Holman 05 October 2010 06:47 am | link


Peggy, thanks for your elaboration regarding motivations to stepping up. It also points our community of practice to work harder to generate opportunities using the non-instrumental language you recommend. ps, I’ve posted sections of my review to Amazon for you! Best of success!

Posted by Ron Lubensky 05 October 2010 10:18 am | link