Week 4 Collaborative leadership and exploring the unknown

Introduction

Welcome to Week 4 of this course on collaborative leadership for voluntary organisations. This week takes a step into the unknown. We 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 we spend most of our time at work focusing on the things that we do know. Knowing is more comfortable and can be enjoyable because we all like to feel that we have mastered something, whether it’s our budget spreadsheets or writing a really snazzy policy document. In many ways, building slowly upon knowledge defines managerial and professional life.

Many of us also operate under the assumption that we know what we don’t know. For example, we might know that we could be better at communicating with volunteers via social media. We 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 we know are available to us.

Operating in the unknown is a bit different to this: it means seeing the limits of our own identities, our own ways of making sense of the world and following what makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable. In the next section, you’ll hear how Ellen 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 us see beyond the limits shaped by our dominant identifications. In the case of leadership, leading ourselves 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 our organisations fresh and exciting places 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 our 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.

1 Ellen reflects on the unknown