When I decided to become a Knowmad I knew I would learn about leadership.
Only that the term is a rather abstract one. Who leads and who leads whom? What about mutual influences in leadership? Claiming leadership is common – but do all the leaders follow their own path? Is a leader somebody who necessarily walks a way nobody has ever walked before? And whom do the leaders follow?
Considering all these questions the term “Leadership” was suddenly something I was a little confused about.
So I started with the obvious: “A leader is somebody whom others follow.” Good.
And then I had a whole load of interesting experiences with leading and leadership at Knowmads, all of them teaching me very valuable things.
During our application workshop in January we were at some point asked to sit down on the floor. Five minutes to unwind from the heavy thinking and brainstorming.
We were asked to make music. With what was around. Considering that we´re a business school there were no guitars and pianos around. We picked up some stuff – pencils, mugs, a basketball, a broom. The room was filled with tension as everybody was concentrated, still in the “taking things serious” mode and a little insecure about what to do now.
Then there was the first sound, the tapping of heavy red rubber on the floor. It was a consistent and repeated rhythm – a kind of ground for all the other sounds to be weaved in and upon. Within a matter of seconds, the room was filled by a multitude of sounds all woven into one rhythm. The first sound – the dominant tapping that had led in the beginning was weaning in it´s importance, then it stopped. Others took the lead. The rhythm shifted and other rhythms slowly surfaced, brought up by different sounds.
It was a metaphor. A metaphor for leadership in groups with several leaders. It´s about listening very carefully and attentively before one reacts to somebody else. It´s about giving space for other voices to be heard and about focusing on the common goal while still maintaining the ability to “speak up”. It told our observers a lot about how each and every one of us reacts in the group. (And apparently our Tribe was quite good at it, it seemed to be the first time that this exercise had been done in an application workshop that there was actually so much dynamic in it… Tribe 5 rules! but now I stop bragging.)
This small example made me realize how flexible and fluid leadership can be.
Then our Tribe started in February, and the second WTF Lecture we attended was a lecture on leadership by Itay Talgam. And again, I learned a lot, again due to a metaphor that consisted of the essential of leadership.
He showed us a video of a conductor conducting an orchestra smilingly and playfully without much visible effort. To the eye of an outsider, who often has a hard time detecting the subtle and personalized language conveyed by the stick, the mimic expression and the body language, the task of the conductor can seem easy, almost redundant – it´s the orchestra that one can hear after all. But no – because somebody has to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Somebody has to have a clear vision and communicate this vision. We´ve seen more videos that evening of the greatest conductors, the big names – Muti, Karajan, Bernstein, Carlos Kleiber. They´re great artists. What we hear can be pure beauty. (And that´s maybe why I loved that metaphor so much.)
Now what makes them great is not only genius, being exceptionally gifted or being able to understand the most complex pieces in depth – it is simply their ability to communicate.
Conducting is communicating. And so is leading.
Conducting an orchestra means enabling the artists to contribute in the best way possible. A conductor is also a facilitator of communication and contribution.
And there are very different ways of communication.
One can single-mindedly strive to convey our one and only interpretation or enable communication within a group, the former option actually being the riskier one (by far). After Riccardo Muti was famously asked to resign from La Scala in Milano the Culture Commissioner stated that “If a conductor does not have the trust of the orchestra it is impossible for him to express himself.”
And musicians who have worked with Leonard Bernstein say that he gives them back their voice. Watching what he did sitting in our Headquarter in Amsterdam watching the screen we see him giving space for expression and giving that space to the artists with everything they know, all the emotions they have felt (music is about stories after all).
After that Lecture I found myself thinking about what leadership means to me a lot.
Then last month a couple of Knowmads attended the First Fairminds Friday and I remember that during the day Floris said something smart about the importance of the first follower – in terms of creating a movement. The second believer and first follower makes the idea look worth following. By following he leads.
A couple of days later we did an Oasis Game at Knowmads. Again, it was a process where we all led and all followed and what we did in few days was astonishing to the point of feeling magical. (I´m careful with words like this.)
There can be several leaders enabling each other.
They will be followers at the same time but actually leading and following is not a contradiction.
I´m sitting in my kitchen in Amsterdam right now, typing and sipping tea as I remember what I have learnt and felt. Leadership consists of many deeply intertwined strings of leader-follower relationships.
By going beyond the simple questions I had in mind when I came here I have learned a lot. In my application form I wrote that one thing I connect with leadership is humbleness and I´m now coming back to that.
I´d say that leading is communicating. And if the communication in a group is really good this means that there can be several leaders enabling each other. This is what I want to strive for – I want to learn how to put this idea into practice. First more and more often, probably one day it will not ask me (and us) much effort anymore.
I´m glad that I can get some brilliant tools to achieve such learnings at Knowmads.
I ´d be very interested in what your vision of leadership is, fellow tribe members, fellow Knowmads, fellow Readers of this post. I´d love to read your comments.
P.S.: here is the link to the Ted talk by Itay Talgam on (“Lead like the great conductors”).
It was very inspiring to have you here, Itay!