From the Individual to the Collective – A Paradigm Shift

The collective has been missing in leadership development thus far.

Changing our mindset involves awareness of the underlying complex compositions and dynamics of the systems that require change and the dynamics developing in a group of collaborating actors. We need to shift from a self-centered consciousness to awareness of the larger whole.

In the old paradigm, leadership focuses on the capacity of the individual who has a higher position and who needs to enlist followers in order to deliver results. Similarly, in many organizations – both in the corporate world and the public sector – dialogue and attention to high quality collaboration relationships are still side issues, soft skills or add-ons. Most employee performance indicators do not measure the quality of collective human interaction.

Yet, for sustainable results this is often what contributes the most.  Therefore the leader-centric paradigmmust shift.

Recent events, such as the Rio+20 summit in 2012 have made it even clearer that global challenges can only be addressed when the joint capacity of leaders to become catalysts for change is realized. This capacity building will be the cornerstone of our response to global as well as local sustainability challenges.

How can one develop the leadership competence of a collective of diverse actors?

Bill Issacs, a pioneer in dialogue as a core competence for leaders suggests that a system of actors has “… ‘collective leadership’ when people are attuned to each other so well that, even when separate, they naturally act in harmony with each other and the goals of the common enterprise.”

Most leaders even within organizations are far away from such an ideal collaborative state of mind. As Bill Isaacs states: “They meet as individuals, squeezing time from their more urgent work, debating from their individual perspectives and concentrating on their individual domains of authority. Their actions, and the actions of those who report to them, consequently take place at cross-purposes, and they often seem trapped in cycles of opposition and breakdown.”

Can we find a path from the fragmented way of working to the ideal and to better co-creation?

I do not believe in perfection, but am convinced we can improve gradually. Rather than seeing the goal of better co-creation as frustratingly far away, I suggest we rediscover and remember what we already know. This is why I developed the Collective Leadership Compass.



This blog post looks at the Collective Leadership Compass as a way to generate collective leadership. For more information on the Art of Leading Collectively, checkout the inside the book and  reviews on, or get inspired by an onsite course that takes the compass into the daily challenges of navigating complex change.


Categories: Collective Leadership.

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