We’ve heard much talk this year about “leadership”, and we all seem to have our own ideas about what it means to be a “leader”.

The team at the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce has been thinking about how we may better encourage and support practices that restore, inspire, sustain, and empower community leaders, while connecting community impact work to personal and professional growth.

Our Emerging Leaders program develops diverse leaders who are grounded and can sustain themselves as leaders, support the leadership of others, and can drive community change and growth. This eight-month program is centered on two principles. First, we believe that our people have the wisdom, vision, talent, and commitment to guide the development of their own communities. Any change must be locally driven–you can’t transform someone else’s community. Second, there must be a critical mass of engagement to create positive transformation and this path must be built upon a shared vision of people willing to act. This is true in a state, county, village, company, or even a family.

So, what is leadership?

Often, traditional leadership practices adhere to a strict top-down model that includes four immovable tenets:

  • Leadership is serial. Once one attains the office of leader, that position is retained at least through the term of office. Giving up or sharing power with others would be seen as abdicating one’s responsibility. Indeed, the goal of office is often to gain more power.
  • Leadership is individual. There is one leader and that person is designated as the authority.
  • Leadership is controlling. The conventional leader believes it is his or her ultimate duty to direct the enterprise and bring the community along. As subordinates, the rest of us follow the guidance of the leader to successfully implement the mission as set forth.
  • Leadership is dispassionate. The leader makes tough decisions that are in the best interest of the enterprise regardless of how they may affect stakeholders, including employees, small business owners, or others. The mission is paramount and the leader is the authoritative source when facing problems.

The innovative curriculum of the Chamber’s Leaderful Delaware program offers an alternative to this “heroic” concept of leadership and calls on leaders to be concurrent, collective, collaborative, and compassionate. Let’s take a closer look at these transformative leadership tenets:

  • Leaderful leadership is concurrent. In any community, there can be more than one leader operating at the same time, who willingly and naturally share power with others. In contrast to serial leadership, power is increased by everyone working together.
  • Leaderful Leadership is collective. Leadership is a plural phenomenon. Leadership does not derive from individual influence, rather from the process of people working together. Decisions are made by whomever has the relevant responsibility. Leadership is not dependent on any one member–everyone is participating in leadership.
  • Leaderful leadership is collaborative. All members of the community, not just the position of leader, are in control of and may speak for the entire community. They advocate a point of view while being sensitive to the views of others and consider those contrasting viewpoints to be equally valid. They seek to engage in public dialogue and willingly open their beliefs to the scrutiny of others. Collaborative leaders realize that everyone counts, every opinion is valid, and each contribution sincerely matters.
  • Leaderful leaders are compassionate. Each member of the community is valued regardless of background or social standing, and all viewpoints are considered whether they conform to current ways of thinking. When people who have a stake in a community project are given a chance to participate, their commitment to that community and project will be assured.

Consider this an invitation to participate in rethinking leadership for change–in our workplaces, our institutions, and particularly in the communities where we live, work, and raise our families. The central ideas of the Chamber’s Leaderful Delaware Emerging Leaders Program are that communitywide change requires many initiative takers from every part of the community and that they can make their communities “leaderful”.

We don’t need less from the people thought of as leaders. We need more leadership initiative from everyone else.