Collective leadership: “Being a leader isn’t heroic nor should it be a sacrifice”

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Carla Fajardo
  • The hands of a team of people clasped.
    The hands of a team of people clasped. Source: Pexels.

Barabara is a social cooperative made up of women that promotes collective leadership in the organisation and through training workshops.

Collective leadership requires time, empathy, trust, generosity, respect towards diversity and resources. It also means breaking away from inherited ideas because “being a leader isn’t heroic nor should it be a sacrifice”. This is the model followed at Barabara, a women’s cooperative working in the field of education that uses this form of leadership internally to then explain it in the training workshops they offer.

“This should be the model followed by all cooperatives, because the aim is to place people at the centre. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and this is what we aim for” says Raquel León, who chairs this organisation: “We don’t need a spiritual guide to lead us because we want to share this role amongst ourselves”.

It’s not easy, however: “power is tempting”. During their training workshops they explain the different forms of leaderships and they provide “peer-to-peer tools, teaching through leadership and mentoring as a space to put collective leadership into practice”.

Feminist skills

León says that some leave their workshops feeling dismayed, upset and uncertain, because this form of leadership subverts the more traditional rules of authoritarian or transformative leadership, which are both based on an individual wanting to motivate the organisation.

This is a feminist model because “it doesn’t involve martyrdom” and requires a set of skills that are typically portrayed as feminine such as generosity and confronting authority and individualism that are traditionally associated to masculinity, and that many women adopt when exercising leadership (so-called superwomen).

Leading from emotions

So, in order to be a good collective leader we often “lack skills of argumentation, of feeling creative and attractive and being open to the possibility of failure and express emotion”, she adds.

In her view, leadership is basically emotional and rational, while an organisation’s board or company management takes rational decisions. This is why collective leadership isn’t something you train, bur rather something you “live” and manage emotionally.

We are all leaders

"It’s important for all people to take on leadership” and sometimes some are reticent to exercising it, especially among women who have been socialised to be women.

In such a case, León considers we should look into the reasons why a person doesn’t want to lead and work on this: “Is it a fear of making decisions? Of making a mistake? Of expressing emotion? Finding arguments in a context that is unfavourable? In this sense it becomes necessary to include not only the gender perspective but also the inter-generational and intersectional perspective too.

Changing roles

Furthermore, people with power need to give up some of their leadership to make space for others. A tool used by Barabara for this is to change job positions, because “leadership is all about taking a stance, taking on responsibility, taking risks and, if you don’t know the organisation and don’t trust it, you simply cannot assume leadership”. In doing this we will learn to trust that others can lead a project to success, she adds.

Beyond economic profit

More and more companies are seeing how, in order to retain talent, they must tackle the way in which emotions are managed and also conflict resolution and what is economically effective in the long run. However, this model of leadership requires looking at more than just profit and investing time and resources. But social organisations often are conditioned by grants and subsidies that force them to shrink their teams and wages and which “sometimes means that we can’t lead the way we had imagined”.

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