Self-leadership development in a Community of Practice (CoP)

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Leadership development is normally a formal effort that focuses on top management and/or high potential employees.  This usual approach to leadership development makes two possible assumptions.  First is that top management is synonymous with leadership, which in turn assumes all leadership is positional.  This overlooks the possibility of self-leadership, which is where individuals take a leadership role within their area of influence in the organization.  This extends leadership beyond the position's formal roles and responsibilities.  The second basic assumption is that top management is capable of identifying high potential employees.  Such a selection process may only identify employees with similar mental models, which is not likely to create the diversity needed for success in a dynamic environment.  It also does not allow a way for other employees to be recognized for their personal learning and growth.  These formal programs are often conducted in a classroom situation and led by professional trainers.  The training takes place over an intensive block of time with some possibility for later coaching or content refreshing.  This type of training involves a great commitment of time and expense for developing and conducting these training programs.

In contrast to this traditional way of developing leaders, the assumption here is that everyone is capable of being a leader within their area of influence.  Too often organizational members assume their area of influence is smaller than it really is based on a combination of fear and untested assumptions.  To counteract this, insight and encouragement is needed to test the boundaries of empowerment, strengthened with specific skills of how leadership might be exercised.  As an alternative to the formal program that limits enrollment, this is a self-leadership development program that encourages all organizational members to join, regardless of position on the organization chart.  Instead of an intensive instructional program, this training is run in a small group, over a long period of time with all individuals learning both together and through individual change initiatives within their organization role.  The learning takes place within a Community of Practice, which provides both a safe, learning environment and encouragement to test the boundaries of empowerment.  Leadership is seen as a mechanism for organizational change, where the entire organization becomes involved.

The learning process involves a combination of individual learning and peer-learning in a group setting.  The content normally delivered by an instructor or subject matter expert is contained in reading materials and a guideline for a group facilitator, who is responsible for managing the group session.  This facilitator role will be periodically rotated so everyone will have an opportunity to develop meeting management skills.  In this way, the group is independent of an outside leader and can function as a Community of Practice with its own governance system.

The community will meet every couple of weeks with a specific learning-based agenda.  Pre-session and post-session reading selections and exercises are documented in the learning plan and are designed to both prepare everyone for the group session and to reinforce the learning objectives.  The facilitator will also have a guide with additional information for facilitating the session.  

Ross A. Wirth, 2005

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Transformative Networking connecting change leaders to enable self-organized grassroots change.
http://groups.google.com/group/transformative-networking

Next Steps While still conceptual, transformative networking offers the possibility of leading change through the networking of those already interested or involved in similar initiatives, effectively tearing down existing silos of practice that exist across disciplines and fields of work.  The next step is to develop a proof of concept built on the theoretical underpinnings above, possibly using Google Wave as the collaboration platform.  Included will be identifying the minimal structure and governance required to enable self-organization within the network while not constraining what might emerge.  Join this initiative and help create the future of organizing - networking communities of interest.
http://groups.google.com/group/transformative-networking    

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