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Lead Better by Putting People First

Lori Hanau March 5, 2016

Initially, Arnhold Hall of the Parsons School of Design buzzed with typical pre-workshop uncertainty — that particular brand of palpable discomfort that a group of people feels before they stop seeing each other as strangers.

We’d pitched the evening as a workshop on innovation in teamwork and design-thinking. The simple goal was for everyone to go away afterward the better for having been together. As practitioners and teachers of the Shared Leadership framework, our first task in the room was to model shifting from our assumed roles into our original roles. That meant consciously and publicly shifting out of the positional role of “person in charge” into the original role of human being, first and foremost.

The shift happened as we asked everyone in the room to help rearrange the chairs from typical classroom-style rows into one large circle, making way for an experience on equal ground. In that moment, there came a tangible feeling of relief and communion, everybody equally engaged in completing a simple task. When we sat down, everyone faced everyone else. There was no longer a presumed “leader” out in front. Instead, we were leading together from every chair.

That simple moving of chairs was the first step in offering participants the direct experience of co-creating shared space to explore leadership. Making the choice to venture out of the all-too-familiar space of our assumed roles afforded us the chance to begin relationally, as equals. It interrupted the autopilot — that conditioned habit of assuming our positions before actually beginning together in our personhood. And rather than being owned and shaped by just the person in charge, the experience became stewarded by the whole. From here, the work could begin.

“Society sits now in a moment of tangible reorientation, shifting from the wisdom of the individual to the wisdom of the collective.”


What followed that night was a group introduction to the Four Pillars of the Shared Leadership framework: Humanity, Equality, Wholeness, and Collective Wisdom. These encompass our practice of bringing out the greatest capacity in everyone by empowering each individual to be responsible for and engaged in the success of the whole. Using The Four Pillars is about transcending the traditional model of work and leadership in order to begin from a place of shared humanity before stepping into roles and action. By practicing the Pillars consciously, we learn to co-create vibrant, human-centered environments where everyone is invited to show up fully as people, first and foremost, regardless of role, age, or expertise.

The Four Pillars are the keys to unlocking the highest potential of a group’s collective genius and performance. They are:


We recognize each other and meet as equals in our humanity — what exists at the core of us, before relating through roles, status, and expertise.


We relate as equal learning partners in full acknowledgement of what we can contribute and learn from each other.


We are fully ourselves, wherever we are. We are also conscious of the concentric relationship and impact of self to group, group to goal or mission, mission to the world, and the human world to all of life.


We know more together than any one of us does on his or her own. We cultivate the collective wisdom of the group by honoring our diversity, respecting and trusting the natural gifts and talents of each and every person.

When we are conscious about how we show up in a room, at work, or in life, we have the potential to step into our original knowledge. We remember our shared humanity, our original “role.” This has been overlooked, by and large, in the ways we’ve been conditioned to relate to each other. Reorienting and beginning with our shared humanity is essential for our collective thriving. This way of moving though the world provides an instantaneous infusion of higher purpose, flow, and authenticity, and we immediately elevate. Any space or group in which we gather is strengthened by the collective substance and capacity of our presence together. We rise to meet each other.

At the workshop at Parsons, the group had a direct experience with having a right relationship to itself, creating a nurturing, more mature, and creative state of being. This was the case even while moving through discomfort. Picture any sports team or jazz ensemble in high flow — when we create this kind of space together, we become works of art, high-performance in action.

“Millennials find that the traditional work model that defines leadership as a position just does not work.”


As a group, Millennials represent a quarter of the entire US population, and make up more than a third of the US labor force. They are often defined as having their own unique brand of purpose-driven entrepreneurialism, notorious for rejecting traditional, top-down leadership styles and structures. They are simply not satisfied with the results of the current leadership paradigm, and neither are we. That is why we bring our work onto conscious campuses, as we did at Parsons.

In attendance that night was Ritchard Swain, a Brooklyn-based artist and the founder of Bootleg Tapes, an independent record label . Born in 1987, he also happens to be a Millennial. When he showed up at Parsons that night, Swain, like many of his contemporaries, was feeling altogether uneasy about the world and, more precisely, about his role in it. “I was in a place where I felt that society was forcing everyone to be in fear and not trust each other,” he explained. “We are heading into a place of forgetting how to care for one another. We are forgetting about respect, not just through the generations, but also through our everyday situations and interactions. I find that peculiar because we are so much more intelligent. We have more access to more information than ever before, and here we are, more divided than we have ever been.”

Society sits now in a moment of tangible reorientation, shifting from the wisdom of the individual to the wisdom of the collective. As Millennials like Swain grow into their early thirties and start making significant strides in their work and lives, leadership easily becomes a conflicted concept. Also known as Generation We and the Global Generation, Millennials find that the traditional work model that defines leadership as a position just does not work. As Swain puts it, “Society has arrived at this place of every man for himself.”

One key element of teaching the Shared Leadership framework at Parsons was to make space for every person to explore their own relationship with leadership, define their leadership mindset, and learn how to open towards a team- and mission-focused approach to leadership. After the workshop, we sat down with Swain to hear how he began to see the world differently in terms of the way he is approaching leadership in his own conscious company.


“Shared Leadership is a framework for us to understand that we are generations on the same team. I totally felt that balance that night. That’s a place we can grow, if we could all lay down our swords, and fast. I felt a natural euphoria from it. I really felt the Golden Rule: respect for one another. It’s not just a poster on the wall in our second-grade classrooms. We are really working together. We are trying to figure this out together.”


“You can get so deep about this theory of Shared Leadership. To me it is a term for a new age. You look at humanity and, over time, how things have to shift. I think of the more permanent things, the structures we have to break down, everything we have to rebuild for it to be possible to live in a different kind of society. The pinpoint of that, the constant reminder of love, is Shared Leadership. In Shared Leadership, there is no difference in class, like feeling you are any less important than anybody else. It is working towards being the best we can be. As boggling as life can be, we have scientific facts for what is under our feet and what consequences are held. For me, that is enough to find belief, passion, and consistency in a direction of being the type of person who is kind, self-sustainable, and happy. That’s a goal to get to.”


“I am practicing this now within my own community; Swim Team, a collective of DJs and producers I’m a part of, is all about Shared Leadership. I have started using it as a term, from the workshop. Any time we don’t see eye to eye or we get muddied together, we reference Shared Leadership as a way through. Shared Leadership feels like the most valid and sensible direction to stick to for a foundation. And it always leads us back to respect — respecting one another, and listening and growing and then sharing more. We could blow our hearts and minds open in a week if we had this new system of communicating. It’s so important for our time. This is a journey. This is standing on a different kind of enlightenment that has to happen.”

Lori Hanau is dedicated to supporting shifts in consciousness, communication, and community in the workplace through experiential learning. She founded Global Round Table Leadership, where she works co-creatively to coach, guide, facilitate and steward individuals and teams in opening to their innate brilliance, cultivating the soul of their organizations and their work. She is faculty and Co-Chair at Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies and on the board of Social Venture Network.

Claire Wheeler is a freelance consultant and co-conspirator for sole practitioners, community-based businesses, and nonprofits. As principal of Re:work, her passion is to translate the creative genius of people and organizations into systems and structures that make work make sense. She finds power in prose and splendor in spreadsheets.

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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