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August 8, 2023

Clarity on leadership

Most people, at some point in their working lives, suffer from imposter syndrome or worse,  fall foul of the Peter Principle which is when someone has been promoted into a position beyond their level of competence. Either way, some of the roles we take on during our careers can be poorly defined and we’re often left to make it up as we go along. Many who read this piece may consider themselves to be in a community leadership role of some sort or other. But what does that actually mean? This article from New Local has a stab at demystifying it.


New Local

Leadership is always a buzzy phrase. A quick scan of LinkedIn tells you it is a hot topic – from stepping up to lead, leading under pressure, or leading through change – everyone wants to lead (and be led) better. But what does leadership look like through a community-powered lens? How would a community powered leader do things differently? What values and behaviours do they have? Strengths? Goals? Weaknesses? What does ‘leading’ in a community-powered way even mean? 

At this year’s Stronger Things, in the Guildhall’s atmospheric Crypts, the seeds of New Local’s future work on leadership were sown. Bringing together people from across community groups, local authorities and health, we asked: “What does community powered leadership look like to you?”. Yes – literally look like. We asked people to pick up their pens, and draw community-powered leadership. Here are a couple of examples of what they produced: 

Pictures may speak a thousand words, but there’s nothing that New Local likes more than hearing from people. And so, we attempted to distil the behaviours and values that shape community-powered leadership. In 45 minutes.

This is what we learned: 

  • Community powered leadership is from the back.  

These leaders are not boastful or attention-seeking, but support others to shine. They turn up, every day, to encourage people – to celebrate the small wins, and to praise efforts of those who have contributed to the achievement. Nothing is done alone and a community-powered leader recognises that and empowers communities to take both the lead and the credit. As one participant summed: “It’s about the soft light, not the spotlight”.

  • Community-powered leadership is empathetic and honest.  

These leaders know when to devolve responsibility and are open to learning from failure. They are calm, and reflect – but listen. Hard. They show empathy for the circumstances and try to understand the root causes. They take pride in their role and value their sense of public duty, but give others the time and space to think. These leaders are interested in conversation AND action – being honest about what is possible but by establishing trust through doing.  

  • Community-powered leadership challenges the status quo – in the thinking and the doing.  

They are focused on change: to the system, to the organisation – to people’s lives, and to themselves. They value qualitative insights alongside the quantitative data and are prepared to try new approaches. Leaders recognise the inequitable distribution of power and money and stand up for what they believe in, role-modelling behaviours that signal a sea change.

One participant shared this quote from Alice Walker as a guiding principle: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” 

  • Community-powered leadership is connecting and convening – of ideas, of people and of action.  

It’s not about thinking in silos. It’s about being open to possibilities, spotting opportunities and connections for better working both vertically and horizontally. It’s about trusting communities, letting go of power and control (and responsibility and accountability) and being willing to embrace risk. It’s about enabling others around them to be truly in it together for the benefit of our communities.