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Exploring Collective Leadership

  • Use when introducing Collective Leadership Framework

What and Why?

Addressing today’s environmental and sustainability challenges calls for new forms of individual and collective leadership. The Earth Leadership Program has adapted the concept and dimensions of this framework to help academic environmental leaders become agents of change within and beyond their universities. The Collective Leadership model encourages individuals to cross boundaries and work collaboratively to transform systems. This collective leadership model is well-suited to academic researchers who rely on broad networks to advance sustainability.

Use the Collective Leadership model if you are dealing with:

  • Challenges where a collaborative approach is needed to create meaningful impact.

  • Issues that are complex and multifaceted.

  • Networks of individuals and organizations such as NGOs, government, private sector.

  • Creating solutions that are likely to be iterative.

  • Challenges that require innovative processes that can enable and catalyze systemic change.

Using this guide for unpacking the Collective Leadership will:

  • Bring the Creative Leadership model to life and encourage participants to adopt it as their approach to leadership.

  • Help participants to adapt this model to their particular context.

  • Provide a collaborative experience at co-creating meaning.

  • Create opportunities for self reflection which may lead to self development.

  • Lead to deeper conversations about effective leadership.

Facilitation Elements

A. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation (90 minutes)

5 mins

RESOURCE: Collective Leadership

  1. Introduce the Collective Leadership framework to the group.

  2. Share the PDF resource from the Earth Leadership Program with the group.

  3. Tell the group that we shall be bringing the dimensions of Collective Leadership to life through a collage activity. (See image resource below)

  4. Divide the participants into 6 groups.

10 mins

  1. Instruct the groups that they now need to prepare a 2 minute presentation of the dimension of collective leadership that they were assigned.

  2. Using their collage as a guide, invite them to consider how they might complete the presentation template.

  3. Share a printed version of the presentation template (Or post the template so that it is visible to the whole group).

5 mins

  1. Before the groups present, ask the participant to draw a spider graph with 6 axes.

  2. Ask them to label the axes with the dimensions of the Creative Leadership model. (Example).

  3. Instruct them to listen carefully to each presentation, and after a dimension has been presented, invite them to consider how comfortable and skilled they are in that dimension of collective leadership.

  4. Ask them to indicate their degree of self assessed expertise on the spider graph.

  5. Share that the outer perimeter of the graph indicates a high degree of skill and the center of the graph indicates a nascent expertise.

15 mins

  1. Invite each of the 6 groups to take turns sharing their presentations.

  2. Remind them to use the presentation template.

  3. After each presentation, invite everyone (including the presenters) to mark their spider graph to indicate their degree of expertise.

10 mins

  1. After all the presentations are done. Invite people to reflect on their spider graphs.

  2. Use the following as journaling prompts:

  • Which of the dimensions do you feel most at ease with?

  • How does this dimension of Collective leadership show up in your life?

  • How did it help you create impact?

  • Which dimensions present the greatest growth opportunities for you?

  • How might you develo

15 mins

  1. Invite the participants to partner with someone else and to take turns to share their reflections.

  2. Suggest that the partners might help each other think of additional ways in which they might develop expertise in the dimensions they wish to work on.

  3. At the halfway point - remind the partners to switch so that they each get a turn to share.

10 mins

Debrief the activity: Invite the group to share what they experienced as a result of using this technique

  • What did you observe or experience as a result of this exploration of the Collective Leadership model?

  • What insights did you have?

  • How might the Collective Leadership model enhance your ability to create impact?

  • What commitments might you be willing to make in order to grow in your capacity as a Collective Leader?

B. How Groups Are Configured

  • This activity can be done with a group of up to 30 participants.

  • Divide the large group into 6 smaller groups.

C. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • Seating for 6 small groups

  • Flip chart sheets

  • Flip chart markers

  • Journals

  • Pens

  • Collage materials (If creating physical collages):

    • Magazines with images

    • Glue stick

    • Scissors

    • Foam board for creating the collage

    • Colored markers

  • Flipchart sheet with collage prompts

  • Flipchart sheet with presentation template

  • Printouts of collage prompts (6)

  • Printouts of presentation template (6)

  • Printout of PDF resource about Collective Leadership (one per participant).

  • Optional resource for free images: Unsplash

Tips and Watchouts

  • Emphasize that the objective of this activity is to bring the model to life. To translate it from theory to practice. From knowledge to a potential for impact.

  • You might also speak to the fact that collective leadership is a stance that one might adopt in all circumstances, not just when one is in front of a group of people. It is a way of being and doing!

  • Groups may want to continue to work on their physical collage beyond the time allotted. There is value in allowing for the kinesthetic and visual learners to lean into their preferences. Consider allocating more time to the collage activity if this is the case. If you do extend the time for the collage creation then also provide additional time for the presentations so that the groups have a chance to share the collage they spent time creating.

  • Display the collages around the room as a reminder of the Collective Leadership dimensions.

  • During a workshop with multiple activities - you might consider referencing particular dimensions of the Collective Leadership model as an invitation for people to be mindful that we are asking them to practice inquiry, reflection, or connection…

  • The more connections that you can make between ways of thinking and working and the dimensions of the Collective Leadership model, the more likely it is that the participants will internalize the stances.

Riffs and Variations

  • You could extend this activity and exploration by inviting groups to brainstorm ways in which they might practice a specific dimension in their professional lives. You might assign one dimension to each group and share their output as a resource for everyone.

  • You might ask people to review the ideas for how to practice a dimension and to select a couple of strategies that they might commit to trying. Follow this up with a pair and share discussion. Once a commitment has been verbalized it is much more likely to stick.

  • You might ask groups which dimension they feel is most lacking in the context of the work they do. Invite them to consider how they might introduce that dimension into their work and what benefits they might expect as a result of that introduction.


The Collective Leadership model and all information related to this framework is credited to the Earth Leadership Program.

For more about the evolution and application of collective leadership, please see

"The Dawn of System Leadership" by Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton & John Kania, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2015


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