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Five styles of leadership

The five styles of leadership can be arranged in a spectrum or scale, with participatory at the top (since it implies the most self-organizing energy) and directive at the bottom (since it is appropriate in the absence of self-organizing energy). The other three leadership styles -- facilitative, evocative, and provocative -- can be arrayed between the two extremes in whatever order is most useful in a given circumstance. Although the phrase "leadership style" suggests individual leaders, the principles described here can be applied to shared leadership, as well, and to patterns that structure a system, like group processes. In these cases it might be better to speak of modes rather than styles -- for example, a jury might work well because it was operating in an especially participatory mode.

Participatory style - Leaders interact with other participants as peers to see what they can discover and create together. To the extent there is any "strategy" at this level, it is that of implicit modelling, of simply being the change the leaders want in others. In a sense, everyone in a truly co-intelligent system leads in this way by co-creating a group field which influences everyone in it to be and behave in co-intelligent ways, more and more, as the system feeds co-intelligence back into itself. In participatory mode, everyone in the group leads according to their competence, insight, experience, or passion in ways that others can and do honor and follow. Such co-leadership and co-followership are shared by all in co-intelligent partnership.

Facilitative style - Leaders see the self-organizing energy of the system being blocked by missing information, resources, know-how, linkages, processes or awareness, or by confusion, or some other specific factor. The leaders deal with the problem in whatever way will best enhance and sustain the self-organizing energy of the system, which then blossoms forth or surges ahead. This is kin to the "servant leadership" approach of some earlier management theories.

Evocative style - Leaders try to draw out the potential capabilities of the system with questions, observational feedback, visions of possibilities, modelling an exploratory attitude, etc. Any directiveness here is unattached to particular outcomes. It simply directs people's attention in a way calculated to trigger a co-intelligent response which is then free to go where it will, as the system self-organizes.

Provocative style - Sometimes when self-organizing energy is not forthcoming, leaders can use a provocative style to push the system so that it pushes back with its own self-determined energy. Or the leader may harass the group about obstacles or problems in a way that provokes them to action. Sometimes such provocation-response interactions unfold spontaneously and unintentionally. At other times a leader plans them to provide enlivening challenge.

Directive style (also called management) - In the directive style, co-intelligent leaders look more like traditional leaders, actively generating the structures, activities, attitudes, conditions, lessons, etc., they deem necessary to initiate co-intelligence in the system. If they are in charge, they may mandate such changes. Other directive strategies include demanding, urging, advising, training, suggesting and explicitly modelling desirable behaviors. The least extreme form of directiveness is a management style that solicits lots of input before, during and after issuing its directives. The most extreme legitimate form of directiveness is controlling force or domination, which may be considered co-intelligent to the extent it is a) required for emergency survival, b) temporary, c) answerable to those over whom it is exercised or to the larger community that includes them and/or d) it impedes dominating forces that suppress diversity or creative participation in the system (for example, a CEO firing an oppressive manager). In order not to impede subsequent co-intelligence, incidents in which force has been used need to be processed -- examined, explored, understood and emotionally discharged -- to remove the inevitable toxic traces force leaves behind.

Leadership fields

Leadership fields exist in every human system or group, like gravitational fields exist in the presence of any matter. The system or group continually shapes the field, and the field continually shapes the system or group. We could say that the mission of eldership is to nurture the consciousness, co-intelligence and evolving coherence of leadership fields in the system or group being eldered.


The raw materials -- and tools -- of eldership are consciousness and context. The primary process of eldership is the co-creation of wisdom. The primary products of eldership are understanding, and the creative, agreement and patterned leadership needed to sustain the co-intelligence of the system.

See also

Leadership and Co-Intelligence

Three Tracks of Leadership

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