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As more organizations move from a top-down to a decentralized and eventually distributed model, some fundamental characteristics of the group change: power structures, incentives for members, sense of ownership. And with that these co-created organizations will need a new type of leadership, different from the one commonly taught at business schools and in books across the globe.

Some people might even argue that co-created groups don’t need leadership at all, that truly these groups are just organized bottom-up all the way. But I personally don’t believe in that, I think that groups that only organize in a bottom-up way are very chaotic and often short-lived. It still requires people to step up and move things forward. But in contrast to traditional top-down leadership, this is more leading from within, or as my friend Michel Bachmann calls it “horizontal leadership”.

Horizontal leadership skills

  • Deep listening
  • Being comfortable with emergent design: not having a plan, but seeing what emerges from the group (through listening)
  • Enable and empower others within the group to create by defining volunteer roles, supporting people in volunteer roles and encouraging people’s creativity
  • Group facilitation: there are proven methodologies how to facilitate conversations and consent building in larger groups
  • Conflict management: co-created groups will regularly face internal conflict, and ideally leadership is prepared to deal with that
  • Experience design: how can we intentionally design experiences to create as much trust and belonging? There is a new profession emerging of “experience designers” and groups can learn a lot from that.
  • Coaching: support individuals within your community, help them work through tensions, because their individual tensions will become the group’s tension if they are not resolved

This needs a new type of leader

While traditional leadership focuses a lot on vision, strength and clarity, I sense that co-created communities need leaders who are comfortable with something I imagine most traditional leaders are not: sharing power with the whole group. My sense is that this requires leaders who have done some serious personal growth work, have examined their own egos and are comfortable to lead from the back, even if it means not being recognized for it as fully as in other organizations.

What do you think is required from leaders in co-created communities? I’d be grateful for your thoughts!