Social learning leadership

Is this one more description of leadership? Or are we onto something here? Is there a new type of leadership for the 21st century?

Where are the people with the imagination to deal with the unknown, able to engage people across historic and often immutable boundaries, and with the savvy to align existing structures with new and emerging ones? Who are the people who can make a difference by fostering social learning in today’s increasingly complex and uncertain environment?

At this year’s BEtreat workshops we focused more than usual on this kind of leadership. It seemed to resonate.

In our work we have observed many people taking up social learning leadership. One key observation is that they display seemingly contradictory characteristics. To engage BEtreaters in reflections on their leadership, we have put our observations on this diagram. Its axes represent what looks like paradoxes. We’ve noticed that good social learning leaders (or leadership teams) embody both ends of each axis. They manage to live with the tension; they embody the paradox. By rating themselves on each axis, participants were able to see the shape of their profile as social learning leaders, and even to think about who else should be on their team.

For us this is a work in progress, so don’t be surprised if it looks different when we next see you. And whether it resonates or you have suggestions or a different experience, we’d be glad to hear from you.

11 thoughts on “Social learning leadership”

  1. Stuart Vigus-Humphrey

    Hi there. Thanks for creating and sharing this model, it’s certainly something that I will refer to. As you evolve the model, I feel that it’s important to include Strategic and Visionary, which you may be suggesting with ‘Big Picture’. I look forward to seeing how this progresses, and thanks again.

    1. Hi Stuart…. thanks. At one point we did have visionary as the other end of the pragmatic spectrum and replaced it with passionate. Do you think that visionary captures the tension with pragmatic better?

      We have debated strategic and came to a (tentative) conclusion that it falls under the big picture description. But we recognize that strategic is a bit more active than big picture. When we write them up we’ll revisit this, so thanks for drawing our attention to it.

  2. Can you expand on your description and development of the spectrum(s)? This has potential to be a great tool, but, even with realizing this is based on some observation, it seems some of the paradoxical characteristics don’t seem contradictory. For example, are “communication” and “listening” really paradoxical? And I’m not saying they’re not, I’m just asking for the logic behind the development. I hope that can help shape your work.

    1. Hi Alan… yes, perhaps “communication” is not the right word. We’re trying to get at the ability to tell a good story to different types of audiences, the ability to explain and/or convey a message.

      Would communicator-listener do it for you?

      These are our own observations and words used by social learning leaders to describe what they do. They are not contradictory, but often in tension. We are saying that good social learning leaders at good at living in those tensions.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      1. I think we get too hung up on ‘communication’ meaning talking. A vital part of communication is also listening. You don’t really have one without the other (well, you might, but the communication isn’t going to be effective)

          1. How about ‘Storyteller and Listener’. I agree that great leadership holds these tensions and look forward to seeing how you progress with the model. Thanks for sharing early, C

  3. I originally came across the idea of ‘distorted strengths’ from Peter Gerrickens, a trainer and games designer working in the Netherlands and your model reminded me of this work. None of the descriptions is inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’; their value surely comes from the context and the way in which they are applied. On that basis, it makes perfect sense for someone to show apparently conflicting characteristics.

    1. Yes, it is true that what is a strength can be a weakness in another context or if pushed too far. So we don’t really present these as strengths, but rather as a set of characteristic in tension that one needs to navigate (oneself or with partners).

  4. Pingback: Community Manager musings: A web of skills “held in tension”, rather than a skills wheel? – Social in silico

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