Hierarchical Leardership and Experimental Co-Leardership Paradigms
by Alpha Lo

This essay emerged out of a field that has been spun by ancient indigenous tribes, co-leadership projects around the global, and the resonant field my friends and I (Alpha Lo) have opened up into as we work on our emergent projects including our upcoming "gathering of emerging leaders" (spiritgathering.net) where we look to embody experiential co-leadership in the spirit of transformational activism


Hierarchical, plan-based, and mind-led leadership model: A director directs the music, telling each musician when they are to play and not.

Experiential Co-leadership and emergent systems model: A group of musicians improvise music together, melodies and harmonies streaming forth that no one has planned before hand, and that there is no director guiding them how to play together. There is a kind of 'zone' musicians can get into where they are really tapping in, and things really click. It is a kind of higher collective consciousness state where you tap into something bigger than yourself. This model requires each musician to really tune into each other, to really listen. The deeper the listening the more creative and new original spaces the musicians can venture into without fear of losing the others in the group.

Hierarchy and plan leadership model: A festival, where the organizer organizers the whole lineup and scheduling.

Co-leadership and emergent systems model: At Burning Man anyone can come and build a camp with a theme there, and run events there according to their own schedule. The power of the festival comes from the people. And by tapping into this energy you have many more nets and events than your normal festival, probably an order of magnitude more. This is because you don't just have say 20 organizers that you might have for a normal festival, you now have something 5000 organizers.

There is still some 'hierarchical' leadership of Burning Man, but the hierarchical leadership is more about facilitating and inspiring others to lead.
Hierarchical and mind-led leadership model: Activist organizers plan the time of a march and how they are going to do it.

An example of experiential co-leadership model: There was a bunch of people in the Great Peace march protesting nuclear proliferation. There were people who wanted to march at their own pace, and people who wanted to march together. What happened is that everyone was given a chance to talk for 2 minutes at a mike. As everyone talked they somehow took into account of what people said before while saying their own version. After everyone had talked there was simply this inner knowing from everyone about what the right decision was without their having to be a vote or anything.

This is an interesting form of 'non-voting' democracy. So you do not need to even have explicit vote to determine what is the best decision. People simply know inside what is the best decision. This is the experiential part of the experiential co-leadership model. It wasn't a mind-based decision.

Hierarchy and plan based leadership model: A director tells how all the dancers there movements and when they all come in.

Co-leadership and Emergent systems model: The movements emerge out of the the dancers listening to each others bodies and to their own. Contact improv dance is one example of such an emergent system model. In Contact Improv the rule is that you stay in contact with your fellow dancer/s at all time. Out of that emerges a dance that no one has choreographed. Dances that work 'better' are those where the dancers are really listening to each others bodies, utilizing a kind of psychic somatic intelligence to guide each other.

Hierarchy Plan based leadership model: The boss, the board are the ones who ponders issues, problems, and what direction to take things next
Co-leadership emergent systems model: In this facilitative process called Open Space Technology which has been used by numerous big companies to solve multimillion dollars issues, everyone is called into one place. It can be a large group of like 100 people. Then whoever is moved to can come to the middle and write some issue that they are passionate. There could be say 8 people who write something. They then go to a place in the room, and whoever is drawn to that question goes over and starts discussing it. So you have these 8 clusters forming. When a person wants to leave a group they are free to, and join another group. This is a self-organizing process as they is no-predetermined questions, nor is it predetermined who will write something. What happens is that it allows the freedom for a lot of very useful discussions and ideas to evolve. In some sense this becomes a board meeting where everyone is involved discussing what to do. This process can often come up with solutions to problems that a small group of bosses cannot, in part because now it is tapping into the intelligence of the whole as opposed to a select few.

Hierarchy Plan based model : The development of the Windows operating system by Microsoft.

Co-leadership model: Linux is an open source developed program that is now rivaling Windows. It taps into the power of programmers from all over the world. Everyone is invited to add to the existing the program. So you have a huge cadre of programmers essentially volunteering their time to build a program. It works because a system as developed to allow programmers who have never met to work together.

Hierarchy plan based model : A conference who where when everyone talks is all planned out.

Co-leadership model: People coming together to share and guide each other. Each person who comes plays a part in how things end up. There are varying degrees of this. At a Well Being festival in LA, spaces are created for people to lead workshops in, but people determine for themselves when they get there when and what they lead.

Open Space Technology discussed above is something that could be tweaked in format so that it provides a template for how people self-organize into events and workshops.

There is a conference in Wales, where when you come you, and where on the first day you co-create with others what is going happen at the conference for the rest of the week.

At Foo camp, an internet developer gathering in Silicon Valley a white board is put with time and spaces, and people who arrive at the gathering sign up on the white board to speak.

There is a name for these events where the content is driven by the participants is called unconferences.

2. OBSERVATIONS about these models:

Hierarchy: Accent is on power
Co-leadership: Accent is on listening
Co-leadership: It requires more tuning in to each other. The musicians really have to listen to each other. Things emerge out of a listening space.

Hierarchy: The accent is on the will.
Co-leadership: The accent is on the heart. (Not to say that the will is not also very important, but you could say the will serves the heart)

Hierarchy: Oriented towards achieving results
Co-leadership: Oriented towards the present moment, holding space, entering resonant spaces, 'expanding' group space, transmuting energies.

Hierarchy : Leader motivates followers to achieve objective.
Co-leadership: Everyone inspires and catalyses everyone else to do their nature, their passion

Hierarchy: Authority is from the boss.
Co-leadership: Authority is from tapping into spirit which is universally accessible.

Hierarchy: Accent is on how well someone does a job.
Co-leadership: Accent is on how well people relate to each other

Hierarchy: The intelligence of the system as a whole is concentrated at the top.
Co-leadership: The intelligence is distributed throughout the whole system.

Hierarchy: Leaders may use posturing, fear, carrots and other things to influence and organize events and action.
Co-leadership: Emotionally opening, being authentic opens us the space for things to reorganize themselves.



The container in the hierarchy model is the plan, and to do what the boss says.

The container in the co-leadership model can be the rules of the facilitative processes like Non-violent communication, Heart Circles , Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology, or World Café. Each of these processes has certain rules, e.g in Non-violent Communication the idea is that one uses I statements, and expresses one emotions and needs. These rules guide the process. The container is also in some sense how self-aware and other-aware you are. The more self-aware and other-aware you are the more the process flows.

The container is in some sense the self-referential nature of the process. Self-referential processes, feedback loops allow a system to readjust itself. So when a group self-reflects on how the process is working for them, when they self-reflect on their emotional state, that act itself readjusts the group so that it is more in alignment. A group doesn't depend on a boss to realign it, it does it itself. The intelligence that allows that to happen is distributed throughout the whole system.

The container in the co-leadership model is the degree we are in our bodies. This is because our cells, our meridians, our organs etc all contain intelligence about everything that is happening. The more we tap into this, the more aware we become of what is happening, and the 'safer' everything becomes. The more we are able to drop into our bodies, the more we are able to create an energetic container that can transmute all sorts of negative energies.

The container is the co-leadership model is psychic guidance. By opening up to how spirit wants to guide us, we are constantly guided away from pitfalls that we do not yet even conceive of. Spirit constantly is adjusting things so they work together in more harmonious ways.

The container is our awareness of our emotions, our anger, our guilt, our sadness, our jealousies, and how that drives our processes and group processes. As we increase our awareness of this and our ability to deal with others emotions, the whole group has created a safe container for traumas and conflicts that may occur.

The container in the co-leadership model is also the resonant space that everyone creates together. Things which look like conflicts in more superficial spaces do not look like conflicts in deeper, more resonant spaces.

The container in contact improv dance can be guidelines about being careful of doing certain things to different body parts, or tips about how to listen to one's partners body. The container is the resonant space that is created in the dance place. And the container is the degree that the participants are in their body. The more in they are in their body the safer the dance becomes.

The hierarchy model is focused on end results. The co-leadership model is focused on the process. When we focus on the process we do not always know what where will end up. What often happens is that emotions and other blockages are transmuted in the process, there is a release, a widening of perspective, it's almost as if the whole group wakes up to a higher level of consciousness.

The co-leadership model does end up with results - Burning man is an mind-blowing festival, Improv troupes come up with amazing performances, the Great Peace March ended up being very successful, its just that you cannot plan, you cannot know at the start how things will end up.

Alpha Lo, one of the organizers of a Gathering of Emerging Leaders of All Ages: Transformational Activism to Birth a New Paradigm shares a letter about what he has learned experientially about co-leadership.

The hierarchy model is based on trying to get results in a fixed 'space'. The co-leadership emergent systems model is about increasing the 'space', we expand the heart space, the emotional space, the psychic space. We expand it through somatic exercises, through heart exercises, through facilitation techniques.


References and links:

1. "A gathering of emerging leaders" Transformational activism.
2. Also
3. "The cathedral and the bazaar" by Eric Raymond. The seminal essay about open source, that explains the idea of how to use the many programmers on the planet to work together to build software.This essay helped convince Netscape to open source its browser, which has since evolved to be Mozilla Firefox.
4. "Out of control" by Kevin Kelly. A book about collective intelligence
5. "The tipping point" Michael Gladwell
6. "The wisdom of crowds" by James Surowiecki
7. The Co-intelligence Institute
8. A collective intelligence issue of "What is enlightenment magazine"
9. "How to host an unconference" Business Week article
10. Global Consciousness Project
11. Center for Creative Emergence
12. Circlecenter
13. "The cluetrain manifesto" An essay how conversations drives marketing
Commons based marketing


Alpha Lo

Who is one of the organizers of a Gathering of Emerging Leaders of All Ages: Transformational Activism to Birth a New Paradigm shares a letter about what he has learned experientially about co-leadership.