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Community leadership: What’s the role of my own motivations & opinions?

And how come I find it easier to uplift the voices of members rather than speaking my own truth?

Photo by Daniel K Cheung

Three years ago I helped initiate a community called Wasan, bringing together network practitioners in philanthropy and non-profits. We had a first gathering in 2019 and we have been meeting in various constellations since then. Along the way we had several strategic conversations about the future of the group. Together with my co-hosts I would prepare and facilitate the conversations, make sure we include as many voices as possible and summarize and distribute what clarity is emerging. This seemed natural. I felt called to be a steward and serve the group. Yet I was quite startled when a member in a recent discussion asked me: but what do you want? In all these years serving the group, I had rarely ever thought anymore about what truly motivates me.

It started with an opinion

I was startled, because I had started with a clear vision. Together with my co-initiator Hinnerk Hansen, our clarity became the seed from which this group grew. Yet along the way I started to deprioritize my own opinion, and see my role less about speaking my clarity, and more about enabling others to speak theirs.

I see that tendency in other community weavers, too. The type of person that is attracted to community work tends to be giving, caring, listening. Many community weavers I know are great at uplifting others, but feel hesitant at speaking their own truths. Maybe that’s just not part of our role?

I think we are doing a great disservice to our groups if we don’t connect the work to our own motivations. My intuition is that simply acting out of service to others without tending to my own motivations can lead to individual burn out and collective confusion. Community leadership requires a delicate balancing act of uplifting others and being in touch with my own needs.

Not an easy balance to find

I truly believe in that balance, but find it hard, even scary to act upon. Healthy community leadership is not a command and control type of authority. Community leadership is relational, listening, caring. To speak my own truth in that environment is a risk: it comes at the cost of potential alienating fellow community members, of having an opinion different from theirs. I have to trust that speaking my truth, even when it’s against the collective consensus, serves the group (or at the very least serves me). That requires a deeper self-confidence and stability that isn’t easily gained by reading blog posts about leadership, but the results of much inner work.

This feels somewhat ironic. I imagine that leaders in traditional top-down organizations don’t struggle with expressing their own opinions. In fact, I imagine that traditionally it’s all about their opinions. Yet the other extreme, of only caring for the opinions of the collective isn’t sufficient either. Maybe this is yet another example of where the generative way lies in finding balance between these extremes.

Related thoughts:

How does this resonate with you?

Thanks for reading. We write these posts to learn from and be in conversation with our peers. What do you think about this idea?

This post was created in community and is part of a bigger project.

We met as part of the Community Canvas project in 2018 and have been running virtual learning journeys for community weavers since then. Now we are documenting our key learnings and working on a next version of an open-sourced community weaving framework. This post is part of it. The learning journeys were developed by Michel Bachmann and Fabian Pfortmüller, guided with the support of Erin Dixon and Sita Magnusson and shaped by the conversations and insights by many, many community weavers. Thank you to everyone who contributed. Sign up here if you’d like to be notified when we launch the new framework.

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Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations weave thriving communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about. https://www.together-institute.org/

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Fabian Pfortmüller

Fabian Pfortmüller

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in Amsterdam, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute, fabian@together-institute.org | together-institute.org

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