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Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

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Week 4: Collaborative leadership and exploring the unknown


Welcome to Week 4 of this course on collaborative leadership for voluntary organisations. This week takes a step into the unknown. We, the course authors, are going to talk to you about what we don’t know. As most of us don’t know what we don’t know (living in blissful ignorance), you could be forgiven for thinking that this will be a very short week of learning.

Of course, that is not the case. It is perhaps natural that you spend most of your time at work focusing on the things that you do know. Knowing is more comfortable and can be enjoyable because everyone likes to feel that they have mastered something, whether it’s budget spreadsheets or writing a really snazzy policy document. In many ways, building slowly upon knowledge defines managerial and professional life.

Many of you will also operate under the assumption that you know what you don’t know. For example, you might know that you could be better at communicating with volunteers via social media. You know that there are a range of options out there to solve this; so it is merely a matter of finding the time and learning a set of skills you know are available.

Operating in the unknown is a bit different to this: it means seeing the limits of your own identity, your own ways of making sense of the world and following what makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable. In the next section, you’ll hear how Ellen from Family Time has tried to cope with this uneasiness.

Exploring the unknown is an important democratic practice and leadership practice. In the case of democratic ways of working, it is important because it can help you see beyond the limits shaped by your dominant identifications. In the case of leadership, leading yourself and others to the unknown is one valuable way of exploring new and innovative possibilities for the future: it is a good way of keeping your organisation a fresh and exciting place to work.

This week you will be taken through two ways in which you can help each other explore the unknown. These ways are:

  • the craft of noticing and building upon the gaps and fractures within your language
  • the practice of asking stretch questions.

By the end of this week you will be able to:

  • discuss with colleagues the potential for creating more forums for free expression of views
  • analyse the language used by colleagues (and by you) at work with a view to exploring unknown possibilities
  • practise asking stretch questions at work.
Described image
Figure 1 Exploring the unknown