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Learn - Non-Traditional Leadership: The Who and The What

This post is the first in a series of three detailing the learning and reflections I experienced during Creating Space XII - a conference focused on learning from non-traditional leaders. The remaining two posts in this series will arrive in the next two weeks.

Who are non-traditional leaders? And how do non-traditional leaders define themselves? What are the hallmarks of the work of non-traditional leaders?

Throughout the three-day Creating Space XII conference put on by Leadership Learning Community, the assembled group dug into these questions. Why ask these questions? Because non-traditional leaders are catalysts. Non-traditional leaders are people on the ground responding to opportunities and needs that are present in communities. Non-traditional leaders spark change, sustain efforts, and fight for those who are often overlooked or forgotten. And frequently, non-traditional leaders desire a brand of relationships and resources that are not associated with dominant culture conceptions of leadership.

So how does a non-traditional leader self-define? Throughout the conference, some described themselves as indigenous leaders. Others used the language of grassroots leadership. Some rejected the notion that they were leaders at all. Mary Luevanos, the director of Detroit non-profit Community of Latino Artists, Visionaries, and Educators, sees herself as a "type A personality who gets hot-headed about issues."

From the assembled voices of non-traditional leaders from Detroit and other Michigan communities, some common themes emerged:
  • non-traditional leaders work from the bottom up,
  • non-traditional leaders are passion driven,
  • non-traditional leaders are primarily concerned with the well-being of others and community,
  • and non-traditional leaders cannot afford to fail given the nature of the issues being addressed.
And how do non-traditional leaders work? One emergent theme was that it happens outside of the traditional 9 to 5 and workplace settings. Non-traditional leaders draw upon who they know, what they know, where they live and what they make to be successful. Importantly, non-traditional leaders work within the will of their communities.

The unfortunate flip-side for non-traditional leaders is that they and their efforts are frequently overlooked by traditional leaders and institutions in spite of the talents, wisdom, connections, skills, and success non-traditional leaders have. "Leadership" in the traditional definition is no longer acknowledging all the layers of leadership in community.

Across Minnesota, Ben Winchester has shown the increasing need for leaders in our rural and small communities. So who are the non-traditional leaders in Minnesota's communities that are being over-looked? Who are the catalysts that are making things happen after caring for their children all day or getting off of a double shift?

Come back next week for the second part of this series examining the supports non-traditional leaders desire.

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