Collaboration as leadership

Collaboration as Leadership

by Ken Homer Collaborative Conversations

The purpose of collaboration as leadership is to re-humanize the workplace. It is each of us learning how to work and play well with other people when we are not necessarily in a position of authority.

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.

In the nearly 40 years since I first read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote above, I have spent considerable time in conversations with vastly different people talking about how to leave the world a bit better. The bold idea that success can be equated with making the world a bit better seems to be widely shared and passionately pursued by an astonishing variety of people. Emerson is generous in his criteria for making the world better: a healthy child, a garden patch, a redeemed social condition, etc. I have tried so often to work on larger scales and in so doing I have overreached and been humbled in my attempts. But still, improving the world at larger levels seems to be called for today. When attempting to work on larger scales I have learned to hold the idea of making the world better as more of a guiding star for my efforts than an actual destination that I can reasonably expect to reach. Being humbled in my grand attempts has led me to believe that if we want to cope with the enormous complexity of the challenges we have created for ourselves, than we need to couple our bold ideas with modest approaches. We need ways of working that are within the reach of ordinary people. Approaches that can be easily to put into practice by anyone anywhere who wishes to help.

The purpose of Collaboration as Leadership is to re-humanize the workplace

Over the past year, I’ve been working with three gifted colleagues: Antonio Linares, Etienne Collignon, and Marion Chapsal on something we’ve been calling Collaborative Leadership – or more recently, Collaboration as Leadership — it’s constantly morphing as we gain more experience with it. The purpose of Collaboration as Leadership is to re-humanize the workplace. We posit that perhaps the most powerful thing we can do as individuals or as groups is to become aware of when we are dehumanizing other people and find ways grant them legitimacy. It’s a bold idea; some might even call it idealistic. However, seeing another human being as a human being is the essence of being human. It takes no special skills. However, it does take courage.

The foundational premise of Collaborative Leadership is that if you give people good tools, appropriate facilitation, and adequate time, they can work together to solve even the most complex challenges. It’s a bold idea that we’ve coupled with a modest approach based on a simple tool called Collaborative Conversations. Collaborative Conversations maps out the four different kinds of conversations required for any group to define a mutually desired future and then plot a course for successfully creating that future.

Conversation is how we create understanding and build relationships. Relationships and understanding are the basis for bringing world-size problems down to human-size abilities.

Collaborative Leadership asserts that if we can learn to master the skills of Collaborative Conversations in handling our daily lives and our routine work, then if we find ourselves called to leave the world a bit better than we found it, we can apply what we’ve learned about small scale collaboration to the larger issues that we’re facing. It begins with the simple yet profound recognition that conversation is how we create understanding and build relationships. Relationships and understanding are the basis for bringing world-size problems down to human-size abilities.

Collaborative Leadership is not a single leader getting others to collaborate. It is each of us learning how to work and play well with other people when we are not necessarily in a position of authority. It is using our personal integrity, reputation, and standing coupled with our commitment to something the whole group is invested in creating, that grants us the influence and the ability to positively affect the outcome of the ventures we are engaged with. Collaborative Leadership is what is called for in times of great complexity and uncertainty. It asks us to step up when we have something useful to contribute and to step back and support others when we recognize that they have a piece of the puzzle that we lack. It also requires us to soak in the often uncomfortable energy of “not knowing” long enough for us to generate viable pathways forward.

Collaboration as leadership recognizes that it is up to us to pull together and find our way through the very personal challenges in our lives and work by creating relationships where we listen to understand, rather than to argue, agree or persuade. Where we invite in and honor the voices that have traditionally been marginalized: women, people of color, the very old, the very young, the poor, those who are not eloquent, those who do not think quickly, but who need time to process, those who ask difficult questions, those who dissent from the status quo.

Collaboration as Leadership invites in and honors the voices that have traditionally been marginalized: women, people of color, the very old, the very young, the poor, those who are not eloquent, those who do not think quickly, but who need time to process, those who ask difficult questions, those who dissent from the status quo.

Collaboration as Leadership flourishes in communities of practice where it is accepted as a given that conversations are how we:

  • Build meaningful relationships with each other (humanize)
  • Explore what is possible together (include)
  • Coordinate our efforts in any endeavor (collaborate)
  • Learn how to improve (build our competence)

Collaboration as Leadership recognizes that perfection is not only unattainable, it also encourages rigidity rather than flow and resilience. It seeks instead to broaden our range of options by playing with the boundaries of our thinking instead of inside of them. It recognizes that people are social, that we all have bodies, and our bodies react according to the emotions that are evoked when we come together. It is undeniable, yet rarely taken into account, that while we are not all subject to the same range of thinking, we are all subject to the same range of emotions, and it is our emotions that bring us together in harmony or split us apart in polarity. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to learn how to foster the emotions that increase our intelligence when we come together in groups, so that we can make better decisions. Such awareness is not something that can be accomplished by thinking. It requires us to attend to the signals our bodies are sending us. Collaborative Leadership is an embodied experience not a conceptual exercise.

It is incumbent upon us to learn how to foster the emotions that increase our intelligence when we come together in groups, so that we can make better decisions.

Collaborative Leadership eschews the judgments of right and wrong, substituting instead the inquiry of, “Are we making things better or are we making them worse?” And it follows that question with: “What are we learning together, and how do we adapt our actions based on what we are learning in order to leave the world a little bit better for our having lived?”

We invite you to come and join us in exploring how to apply and embody Collaboration as Leadership. We have two workshops coming up in Europe in May 2017.

Click below for more information.

May 18 and 19 in Madrid Spain

May 29 in Paris France

2017 GASC European Conference

2017 GASC European Conference

As current Chairman for the Global Association of SOL Communities (GASC), I´m very proud to share with you the program for the 2017 GASC European Conference.

The empowered society: Transforming cities, citizens and organizations for resilience and prosperity.

Participation is free, registration is compulsory: .


  • May 25: Porto, Sala de Atos do Politécnico do Porto, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias, 712.
  • May 26: Braga, Campo da Vinha, Praça Conde do Agrolongo 123,  (
  • May 27: Porto, Politécnico do Porto, Praça do Marquês, 94.


  • May 25: 9:30 am to 6:00 pm.
  • May 26: 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
  • May 27: 9:30 am to 1:00 pm.


Developing effective collaboration, activating people, connecting people, inspiring change makers, women gaining equity, collaborative innovation, collaboration instruments/methodologies, collaborative citizens, emotional intelligence, context for a collaboration to emerge, sense of pride, leaving no one behind, leaving a legacy, touch the soul, inspiring collaboration by examples, dreams and visions.

Conference questions

What conversations shall we have in Portugal to move beyond “desenrascar”? What would it take for Portugal to lead the way in Europe? What would it take to improve business collaboration? What would it take for Portugal to lead the way again in the world? What would it look like if Portugal were to become a world leader in collaboration? What would it look like for women to launch their own business? What would it look like Portugal XXI century sailors and for what “descobrimentos”? What would it look like for people in Portugal to adopt a positive mindset about risk and entrepreneurship? What would it look like for Portugal to be a place where bright young people can make their way in the world and feel both challenged and fulfilled while improving the employment situation? What this country strategic direction should look like for collaboration to become a competitive trend? What would it take to raise women’s self-esteem and changing social expectations?

Conference drivers

The conference is organized around eight drivers grouped into three clusters:


  1. Smart citizenship: enabling change in each citizen.
  2. The aware citizen: shifting our relationship from ego to eco.
  3. Happy healthy cities: core competences and supporting players.
  4. Smart cities: for residents and/or users?


  1. Developing organizational behavior towards social progres.
  2. Enabling people and organizations for change: Providing instruments and tools for a successful set of processes.


  1. From ideas to projects, from projects to businesses.
  2. Economy and success, leaving no-one behind.

SOL communities facilitators

  • Annika Bergenheim, Sweden.
  • Camila Amaya Castro, France.
  • Paulo Ferreira do Amaral, Portugal.
  • Sofia Rodrigues, Portugal.
  • Martijn Meima, The Netherlands.
  • Natalia Blagoeva, Bulgaria- Switzerland.
  • Alexandre de Azevedo Campos, Portugal.
  • Ken Homer, US.
  • Marion Chapsal, France.
  • Konstantin Yordanov, Bulgaria.
  • Esther Liska, Portugal.
  • Simeon Ries, Germany.
  • Heidi Sparkes-Guber, US.
  • Antonio Linares-Güemes, Spain.
  • Ágota Eva Ruzsa, Hungary.

Conference steps

Step Purpose
1. Sharing understanding conversation (plenary). Generating inclusion, setting the individual intention for the conference, expected outputs and outcomes.
2. Exploring opportunities conversation (plenary and parallel combined). Letting go…of what doesn’t serve us anymore to make room for what inspires us.

Activities/habits we should stop doing.

Co-creation process, new ideas, new ways, new opportunities, new possibilities.
Good initiatives in the region and elsewhere.
3. Converging conversation (plenary and parallel combined). Letting come, connecting the drivers into a systemic framework, passion to move ahead.
4. Action conversation (plenary and parallel combined). What can I integrate in my life, what methodologies can help me, what are my commitments to move forward, what is my new intention to move forward.
5. Learning conversation (plenary, morning of 27). Learning conversation with participants and SOL communities’ members. Also conference debriefing.


GASC is a not-for-profit, global membership society, whose members are SoL communities, dedicated to the SoL principles and the SoL brand. The purpose of Society for Organizational Learning (SOL) is to discover, integrate and implement theories and practices for the interdependent development of people and their institutions.

Facebook: @GASC2017

Systemic Diagnosis

Systemic diagnosis

In my newly issued book, El Liderazgo Colaborativo, I introduce four interdependent systemic approaches to carry out diagnosis and five system containers to facilitate organizational learning and collaboration.

Systemic diagnosis assumptions

Classical diagnosis approaches set that “causes” precede “symptoms”; therefore, they have  different status. Causes are usually part of “evidence”, while symptoms are usually part of “interpretation” of the evidence according to a model; interpretation is a kind of explanation.

Systemic diagnosis sets four assumptions:

  • The first assumption sets that system adaptation is an ongoing opening up and learning process happening at individual, teams and large system levels. This process is strongly connected to a closing up process happening at the same three levels.
  • The second one sets that learning (opening up) and resistance (closing up) to learn and adapt go together, also at the three levels. Both are system active processes: although people may feel not so satisfied/happy with current business culture, they are more resistant to losing this reference than to co-create a new business vision that increases their future utility. Systems culture is antagonistic to systems vision.
  • The third assumption sets that individual and team learning should happen within a number of system containers or platforms that set collective direction and subsequently provide shared purpose or shared meaning to them. Aligning people to brand values, as a business container, doesn’t mean building an obliged hierarchy but a commited network.
  • The fourth one sets that any emergent agent should pay attention to learning and to resistances at the same time. This dual or ambivalent focus falls under the adaptive complexity, a sort of empirical term many use without a clear understanding about the meaning.

Many system leaders end up by adopting linear approaches, very disruptive for people and teams.


The full identity systemic model

The full identity systemic model

Seven years ago, in my book Identidad Completa (2010), I introduced a systemic model named the Full Identity (FI), applied to organizational learning and transformation. Full identity sets that any human system –individual, team and large system- behaves under the influence of feminine-matriarchal patterns and masculine-patriarchal ones; whether system members are conscious or not this is another story.

FI model is based on a combination of field experience and bibliographic research. The field comes from years of executive coaching, team coaching an intercultural experience. The bibliography comes from imaginary anthropology and gender studies. FI is also my singular way to explore the collective intelligence, a sort of phantom concept we hear about a lot in business…but never see. I have to say that according to imaginary and gender research, there is a difference between gender and sex. Many people either reject or do not understand this hypothesis about differentiating gender and sex…maybe another phantom idea…maybe a resistance due to our mental model.

The FI model assumptions

The first assumption sets the antagonistic relationship between the two patterns: feminine-matriarchal and masculine-patriarchal. When a pattern becomes official (dominant) in the system in terms of influencing attitudes, behaviours, habits or corporate policies, the antagonistic pattern can be observed as symptom. As an example, when an organization becomes too much competitive, demanding, performance oriented, oppressive and vertical (masculine-patriarchal), people show symptoms in form of rumors, stress, boycott and relationship violence (i.e. humiliation, harassment, threat). On the opposite side, when the organization becomes too much social, friendly, caring, protective, easy going, inclusive, tolerant, mystic, patient, slow driven (feminine-matriarchal), people show symptoms of annoy, sadness, mysticism, dispersion and a sort of frustration due to lack of challenge.

The second assumption sets the importance for people to access to shared purpose or shared meaning. Both require inclusion and co-creation, both reduce people anxiety and uncertainty, and increase people commitment. System change implies building a shared understanding and exploration about what behaviours and mental models require to be re-assessed (i.e. which ones need to be abandon and which ones to be reinforced). Systemic crisis may happen when the dominant pattern is unable to provide, not just shared meaning to system members, but also sustainable results for teams and for the large system. As an example, the recent economic crisis represents the failure of the neo-liberal ideology to provide shared purpose to millions of citizens. On the antagonistic side, the collaborative or social economy represents a pattern reversion; digital collaborative technology behaves here as enabler.

The third assumption sets the importance of combining patterns, which means combining combative and collaborative leadership processes or, as Adam Kahane says, combining power and love, vertical execution and horizontal coordination, individual performance and team cohesion, divergent scenario exploration and convergent operating decisions, etc. Adaptive complexity derives from this assumption; adaptive complexity is connected to the way the system learns whether at individual, team or large system level, but also connected to the way the system deploys natural resistance to most of the learning initiatives.

I´m very glad my SOL colleagues, Marion Chapsal and Ken Homer, are exploring the gender field to support system learning and transformation. They will apply their model at the Madrid Collaborative Leadership Workshop this May.



Una cultura fuerte?

Una cultura fuerte?

Una cultura fuerte, una cultura evolucionada, mucha cultura, poca cultura. Estas son las expresiones a menudo escuchadas en creyentes y profanos sobre las organizaciones ¿Qué hace que en este pais sintamos tanto apego por las corrientes antropológicas evolucionistas? Qué encierra este neo-darwinismo?

Recientemente, las firmas Branward y Hamilton presentaron un estudio llevado a cabo sobre 60 marcas llamado Indice de las marcas: dimensión y efectos de los gaps reputacionales. El estudio trata de validar la hipótesis de las 3Cs, desarrollada por uno de los expertos: Cultura (de marca), Comportamientos y Comunicación. El estudio arroja que el 60% de los encuestados creen que la cultura de marca es lo más importante, contra un 27% los comportamientos mostrados por esas marcas, y un 13% la comunicación que hacen esas marcas.

El límite de la cultura como Todo

Uno de los límites del paradigma cultural evolucionista, aplicado a las organizaciones, es que la cultura se representa como un gran contenedor de muchas otras realidades o variables, o como una gran explicando de todo lo demás que a su vez es explicado por todo lo demás, lo cual ya señalé alguna vez que es una tautología, equivalente a decir que el aire lo produce el viento.

La Parte no puede ser el Todo, ni tampoco al revés, salvo en los enfoques absolutistas y auto-referidos que fantasean con una fusion sincrética, la antítesis de la diversidad. A mí no me gusta hablar del “ADN cultural”, me resulta una metáfora reduccionista que da pié a enfoques de management mecanicistas y reduccionistas.

La vision compartida sobre la marca

En el modelo 6PM que introduje en el libro El sentido compartido y que trabajamos en el taller sobre Liderazgo Colaborativo del 18 y 19 de Mayo próximo, indico que la cultura corporativa, ya sea ésta compartida o no, es antagónica con la vision compartida que existe entre los empleados sobre la marca. Antagónica significa que siempre habrá una tension entre ambas, o que deberán ser gestionadas (como poco) como un dilema. Esto también significa que si queremos cambiar la cultura del negocio tenemos que trabajar el alineamiento de personas y equipos con los atributos de la marca, cosa que cuesta hacer entender a no pocos directivos y empresarios.

Que los directivos, supervisores y empleados tengan mucho o poco compromiso puede parecer indiferente para lo que entendemos por “cultura”. Sin embargo el bajo compromiso afecta seriamente a la imagen de marca, y la deficitaria imagen de marca también afecta al compromiso porque influye en el orgullo de pertenencia.

Por otro lado, no cabe decir que una cultura es abierta sino que una marca es dialogante, cálida, amigable o cercana a sus clientes. La cultura es identidad e incluso capacidad.

Retorno al índice de las marcas

Desde el modelo de las 3Cs, los autores del estudio trataron de explorar la brecha que existe entre lo que dicen las marcas que hacen para mejorar su reputación y lo que perciben los encuestados. A esta brecha la denominan el “gap reputacional”. Abreviando, diremos que el gap reputacional es menor cuanto mayor es la dimensión de la empresa: por ejemplo, Bankinter tiene mayor brecha reputacional que BBVA.

Aprendizajes significativos

Varios han sido los aprendizajes de esta conferencia y de este estudio. Los formulo a modo de hipótesis de trabajo:

  • La cultura es a la notoriedad lo que la reputación es a la imagen de marca: creo que los autores del estudio pretendían medir la reputación de la marca y acabaron midiendo la notoriedad social porque esta última está muy correlacionada con nuestra creencia compartida de que la brecha es menor cuanto mayor es la empresa. Una empresa grande (ej.: Iberdrola) puede incurrir en múltiples contradicciones (ej.: presentarse ante la sociedad como una empresa sostenible, forrarse subiendo el precio de la energía cuando más frio hace, y decirle al cliente que “puede elegir su tarifa” o darle a entender de que “puede decidir cuánto paga” en el recibo mensual); aún así,  desde nuestra creencia en la cultura evolucionista una marca como Iberdrola saldrá menos perjudicada que una pequeña empresa.
  • La notoriedad se capitaliza incluso cuando se dan contradiciones en la forma de exponer la empresa a los diferentes grupos de interés, e incluso cuando se rozan o traspasan los límites éticos. La imagen de marca y la reputación en cambio no puede construirse incurriendo en contradicciones que pondrían en tension a los stakeholders. Desde esta hipótesis, en la notoriedad subyace una actitud conservadora en los encuestados que perdonarían más a las grandes empresas por el hecho de ser poderosas. La reputación en cambio pone en igualdad de condiciones a las grandes y a las pequeñas empresas, favoreciendo incluso la renovación de los negocios desde las marcas-nicho que trabajan bien su reputación.
  • La cultura deberá seguir a la marca y nunca al revés, sobre todo cuando la empresa es más pequeña y no ha pasado el umbral de notoriedad que, desde nuestra creencia evolucionista, la protege ante posibles contradicciones.
  • Desde el paradigma cultural evolucionista que venimos señalando, también los partidos políticos llamados tradicionales reciben más votos a pesar de sus numerosas y reiteradas contradicciones, de no respetar los programas electorales, de transgredir las fronteras éticas, o de recibir numerosas críticas de la sociedad civil. En cambio, somos muy críticos con cualquier contradicción observada en los partidos emergentes.También en este ámbito la notoriedad prima culturalmente sobre la reputación.