Leadership As A Social Process
“For something to be sustainable, lasting and impactful, it’s never done on an individual level.”
~Paul Martinez, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
In Western culture, leadership is often associated with hierarchy, individualism and scarcity, placing one perspective at the center of the work with the expectation that others follow. As the world’s challenges become increasingly interconnected, this concept of leadership doesn’t meet the demands of our time. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership, takes a radically different approach, promoting that leadership is a social process – one in which collaborative direction, alignment and commitment are at the forefront.
Paul Martinez is the chief leadership and human capital strategist at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where he focuses on executive coaching, organizational development and capacity building within the leadership team, as well as fellowship and alumni programs. One of those leadership programs is the WKKF Community Leadership Network with the Center for Creative Leadership. In October, the 80 fellows of class three gathered for their first time in Battle Creek, Michigan – the home of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation – where Paul talked about how they can use leadership as a social process in their home communities.
“At the heart of leadership is understanding that the opportunities and challenges in our communities exist as part of a larger ecosystem, in which each individual’s perspective plays an essential role. The goal is to move leadership from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ mindset, and realize that vulnerability and trust are more impactful than force and hierarchy.”
“The emphasis on vulnerability is especially key in a Western context that often misidentifies vulnerability as a weakness, instead of an opportunity for true connection and collaboration. It is the trust that comes from vulnerability that enables individuals to work together and achieve results they could never reach working on their own.”
“Come on dad, no troll left behind!” ~Kiana Calloway, WKKF Community Leadership Network fellow
Kiana Calloway is a leader, abolitionist and artist who mentors young men returning home from incarceration, providing holistic, wrap-around resources and transitional employment in his hometown of Harvey, Louisiana, and across the state.
His understanding of leadership as a social process starts at home. “My daughter is two years old, and anytime she leaves the room, she makes sure to turn around and say ‘Come on dad! No troll left behind!’ Kiana reflects fondly, “It lets me know that she has that inclination, that no matter where we are, no matter where we go, we do not leave anyone behind.”
“When it comes to leadership, I take the same approach as my daughter, it’s a collaborative process. It’s not enough that I have a seat at the table, it’s critical that I speak up for the folks not at that table, expand the table and set the menu together. If a family is lactose intolerant, we’re not putting ice cream on that menu.”
“The WKKF Community Leadership Network fellowship has re-sparked and re-kindled the flame at the center of my work. I am surrounded by a group of extraordinary individuals and I believe that after this we can take our styles collectively and we can do what we do in Louisiana – make a pot of leadership gumbo.”
“Iron sharpens iron, and no great vision can belong to any one person.” ~Ashnee Dunning, WKKF Community Leadership Network fellow
Ashnee Dunning is a community organizer working to dismantle systemic bias by encouraging positive collaboration and dynamic implementation throughout her community of Flint, Michigan. She serves as the CEO of the Power Initiative, a social profit agency that engages in programs, services and projects to support communities in identifying gaps and facilitating solutions to real life situations.
“One thing I’ve learned over the course of this gathering is that transparency and vulnerability, breed transparency and vulnerability. In this space, with all these phenomenal people, from all of these different cultures and walks of life, it has been essential that I allow myself to be vulnerable, to not be the expert in the space, to be transparent about where I am, and who I am – acknowledging that vulnerability and trust is contagious.”
“Another key takeaway is that one of the most important things I can do as a leader is to be a learner. There’s no hierarchy or ladder I can climb, there’s no position I can serve in where I alone can actually bring about the change my people need. It’s about giving myself permission to not always get it right, to try my best, to be in the present and give myself grace. This is a marathon not a sprint.”
“The biggest thing is having a new perspective.” ~Dillon Shije, WKKF Community Leadership Network fellow
Dillon Shije is a councilman and Tribal leader for the Pueblo of Zia. He serves as membership liaison at the National Congress of American Indians, and is a partner at Zia Impact, a global consultancy focused on infrastructure and health development.
In Dillon’s experience, leadership as a social process is baked into the fabric of his work, reaching across cultures to empower Native peoples has always required the capacity to align and mobilize different experiences and perspectives.
“I think the key is in sharing our stories clearly and unapologetically. As we advocate for our communities, it’s ensuring that each perspective is woven into the whole picture. We can utilize our stories to advocate for our communities at the highest levels of society.”
“One thing I’ve taken away from this gathering is the difference between listening and hearing. This understanding has really changed the way I approach this work and the people around me. I am now able to more effectively deploy our different perspectives in the pursuit of shared justice and impact.”
“Passion isn’t enough. It’s important to be transparent not only with my wins, but with the things that have broken me.” ~Steven Randle, WKKF Community Leadership Network fellow
Steven Randle from Madison, Mississippi, is a poet, author and executive director of S.C.R.E.A.M, an organization that seeks to use creative art as a means of increasing emotional intelligence and building life-coping skills with Black and brown youth in communities that have been under-resourced.
“The biggest takeaway from this gathering has been the need for transparency and vulnerability as a leader. I know for a fact that I’ve not gone through everything that a lot of my students have gone through. But I do have my own experiences, and it’s my job to share that perspective with them in a transparent and vulnerable way.”
“Over the course of this gathering, I have realized that while we have extremely high achievers and successes in the room, there is also real trauma and stories of survival. What I understand from that is because we’ve all had traumatic experiences that we’ve made it through, we can now present real tangible results for people who might be in need. I’ve realized that the passion I take to these kids might not be enough, they need to really see me. Maybe they need to not only hear about the circumstances that I’ve gone through, but they need to hear how these broke me. They need to realize that there are still pieces that are broken and that in helping them, it’s also helping me.”
“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together” ~African proverb
Leadership as a social process is fundamentally not about the positions one holds, it’s about the ways we engage with one another. Multiple perspectives, transparency and collaboration foster the kind of innovation that our world desperately needs. Everyone has the capacity to be a leader, and through collective leadership and collaboration we can enable individuals to work together and achieve results they could never achieve alone. And that is what will eventually change the world.