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“Should be required reading in every classroom.”

Judith Malina, founder of Living Theater

Enable, don’t command

Contributed by

“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people — they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
In Sum

Supportive, enabling leaders awaken the creative potential of participants.

There’s one style of leadership in which a charismatic, commanding leader serves as the public face of a project, sets up a vertical organizational structure, and then brings a whole lot of people along for the ride. The job of everyone else is to serve, support, and follow the commands of the charismatic, commanding leader. It’s a very top-down approach.

Conversely, there’s a style of leadership which is far more bottom-up, in which the job of the supportive, enabling leader is to set up a lateral organizational structure with a compelling, inspiring vision, and then spend his/her time encouraging others to participate and assisting them in maximizing their creative contributions.

The value of the “supportive, enabling leader” approach is that it unlocks the creativity, ingenuity, and innovation of everyone involved in the project or cause. Participants are inspired to engage because of the positive vision, and then encouraged to learn new skills, take on new challenges, and become supportive, enabling leaders in their own right. The long-term success of the project or cause isn’t dependent on one person’s energy and presence. Rather, it’s a combination of the beautiful juiciness of the vision and the creative synergy of large numbers of people working together to realize that vision.

Kathryn Blume grew up improvising radio dramas on a tape recorder and pretending the trees were talking back. A little while later, she finagled a self-designed degree from Yale in environmental studies and theater, and it’s been pretty much stuff like that ever since. She is co-founder of the radio show Earth on the Air, and the Lysistrata Project, the first worldwide theatrical event for peace. She has had essays published in numerous books, blogs, and magazines. Kathryn’s also a solo performer, climate activist, yoga teacher, wedding officiant, haphazard gardener, and irresponsible cat owner.

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