Action Spectrum graphic

Co-Creative Leadership sounds compelling and exciting perhaps, but how exactly do you practice it? The Action Spectrum helps reveal how to engage with others while still moving projects forward. For those new to co-creation, I find that many are concerned that they will have less control, extend deadlines, and be tossed into chaos. While that can happen, it by no means needs to. Others believe leadership is antithetical to the emergence and peer respect that co-creation involves. For those, I would say that the old command and control form of leadership won’t work, and yet, there is a role for a different style of leadership. That everyone involved in co-creation can be leaderful.

1. Control

It may seem counter-intuitive for co-creation to be clear about, yet it is actually essential at the individual level. Know clearly what you do control. When you are clear on your realm of control, you will find it easier not to control what isn’t yours. (At least that helps me, since I have a long-standing habit of trying to control everything around me. Now I just work on controlling myself and what I stand up to be responsible for.) Control is the realm of simple even mechanical systems. Often the language of the control space sounds mechanistic. What do you control:

  • What story do you want to have about the facts? You control your story and how you experience those facts. How you talk about co-creative efforts helps create culture, excitement, and sets expectations. Telling stories about resourcefulness, generosity, flexibility, gratitude, and learning encourage co-creative engagement.
  • How do you want to respond to what comes your way? Following from controlling your own story, you control your response. You can’t control what comes, but you can control how you react. Your reaction to what happens demonstrates the kind of culture that the collective supports. Are you reacting with patience, curiosity, appreciation, and resourcefulness?
  • What about moving forward or next steps are not dependent on someone else that you can take to demonstrate your own commitment? What are you taking action on right now? You can’t control for all the variables for next week, month, or year, but you can control what action you are taking right now. Can you name small actions that you can start on right away that can be reciprocated by others stepping forward with their small next step?
  • What do you want to be held accountable for – what commitment to output can you make to the group (that you have control over)? For example, that could be drafting an invitation, hosting a discussion or posting to a dialogue space, or reaching out to speak with someone else, etc.

2. Guide

Guiding and influencing others can seem a bit paternalistic from the wrong angle, and yet actions in this realm can be helpful in co-creation leadership too. The guide space tends toward complex systems. We hear the language of cooperation, partnership, and agreements. Engage generatively with others using guide-like actions:

  • How are you inviting others to partner with you? Is your invitation acknowledging the value that others bring to the co-creative endeavor? Does it demonstrate that you have listened to their concerns? Does it inspire them to bring their best, most creative, and insightful versions of themselves?
  • What actions can you take with someone else or a group of others? Does your invitation to action have a clear next step that resonates with why others are interested in co-creating with you?
  • How does your invitation to action together build on what others are already doing or already have expressed? Avoid offering your pre-scripted plan, especially a multi-step plan, if it doesn’t take into account what is alive and emerging in the present with others.
  • How is your guidance on a next step spontaneous and playful?

3. Nurture

Co-creative leadership shows up most in the realm of what we nurture. Older styles of leadership remained in command and control spaces. Co-creative leadership flourishes in the realm of what we nurture. Look for words of gardening and not the language of machines. The nurture space tends toward complex adaptive systems where predictability is challenging and emergence, probability, and ongoing learning rule.

  • How are you cultivating patience and an openness to what arises from the group and beyond?
  • How are you planting seeds of possibility with others? Is your story speaking to a desired vision of the whole?
  • What actions can you take that shine the light on the magnificence of others? And is that replicable in a way that they can then shine the light onward?
  • What simple agreements can you create with others that enable each contributor a great deal of autonomy? Often emergence of rich possibility arises from just a few simple parameters. Avoid lengthy rules and policies, and instead elucidate clear principles.
  • Is what you are doing easy to share and replicate? Can others see not just what you did but how you did it in a way they feel invited to try it themselves? It is crucial that they believe they can try it themselves and not that you are the privileged expert that they need to rely on.
  • How are you providing the resources and opportunities for others to flourish? to bring and be their best selves? Are you enabling other people to lead from where they are? Do you acknowledge and encourage what others are doing in a way that they feel seen and supported?

Co-creative leadership leverages the full action spectrum, enabling each individual a great deal of personal control and freedom, encouraging individual agency while rallying around clear agreed upon principles and visions. There is an immense range of variety in co-creative leadership. I hope these questions have helped to surface some of the edges to play with as you extend your co-creative efforts.