Fostering Commitment for Change is an Art One can learn

Collective action for sustainability must be guided by a leadership paradigm that is inspirational, fosters commitment by various actors and acknowledges the role of collective contributions to decision-making. Leading, here, can be seen as a co-creative process that often begins with a small group of people and aims at profound collective change.

Overcoming the challenges that lie ahead of us requires building teams within our organization, action groups across several institutions or even networks for change. We need to integrate different organizational cultures into joint initiatives and foster collaboration between actors that are often not even used to communicating with each other.

Only dedicated circles can give birth to something new

Petra Kuenkel

This saying by a circle of African wise women captures an important learning in sustainability leadership: Engagement often starts small, not big, and it requires a team of committed people. I call this: building containers for change.

The term ‘Container’ refers to such a committed team of actors and describes its function and relational quality. A good ‘container’ exists if

  • all actors in the team or group are dedicated to the change envisaged,
  • emotionally engaged with future possibilities and
  • are committed to initiating and implementing the intended change jointly.

Ideally, this group of people already represents – to some extent, at least – the diversity of actors so that it can embody the range of interests in the change initiative. It is composed of people who are willing to respect each other and who are committed to the goal. It creates a holding space for the planned change, an emotional home for the joint initiative and an initial pattern of the envisaged dialogue and cooperation.

So how do you build containers for change?

  • Create resonance for the change envisaged among several people
  • See who is reserved, who gets excited and who gets engaged
  • In the beginning: work with the engaged, create face to face meetings, ensure encounter of each other and a possibility to shape the endeavor
  • Plan small collective action steps – joint founding statements, preliminary joint goal clarification, joint stakeholder analysis, preliminary process plans, etc.
  • Don’t create too much structure in the beginning – it would destroy the spirit of a beginning

You notice that a container is forming when people start to relate to each other more and more and not only to you as the initiator. If this is the case, start the first steps of formalizing. This could be formal „we have all joined this initiative“ agreement or a jointly agreed plan, a declaration or a memorandum of understanding.

How do you use the Collective Leadership Compass for this?

You are on a good path, if you attend to all dimensions in an appropriately balanced way.

  • Ensure that your engagement conversations are stories of possibilities (FUTURE POSSIBILITIES)
  • Listen to people – where are they? What do they think? What are their dreams and aspirations? Appreciate what is already there (HUMANITY)
  • Let you engagement conversations – bilateral or as a group – be true dialogues. Foster COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE, as your create a space, in which people can bring in their ideas (INNOVATION)
  • Start with one on one more informal ENGAGEMENT first before you move to more formal steps, but do it in a conscious process.
  • Bring in a larger goal and pick up people’s aspirations as you invigorate the dormant intentions to make a difference. Let people feel that they can contribute – each in their own way (WHOLENESS)

The more this group – the good container – is able to provide coherent collective leadership, the more likely the endeavor will be set on a route to success. Groups of actors that have the qualities of a  “good” ‘Container’ help bring about change by establishing ever broader containers for change.