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What is Collective Leadership?

In this video, Pam Matson and several Leopold fellows will offer you a concise introduction to the six dimensions of leadership and to where we need to go next. Below the video, you will find a full transcript with hyperlinks to leadership narratives and teaching notes designed by the fellows, as well as other relevant resources on our website. Enjoy!

When you hear the word leadership, what do you think of? Generals? CEOs? Superheroes? Environmental challenges require a different type of leader --  One who listens, engages and co-creates solutions with others. One who tries to consider all the dimensions of the challenge, however complex. One who is both a thinker and a doer — and committed for the long haul. For two decades, the Leopold Leadership Program has been training researchers throughout North America to lead environmental projects that both create new knowledge and turn it into action. My name is Pamela Matson, and I served as the faculty director of this program from 2005 to 2017. Over these years, we've identified six dimensions that are critical for engaged, action-oriented work by collaborative leaders. My Leopold colleagues can best describe the value of each one. The first one is

1. Reflect.

Know yourself. What do you care most about?  What gives you energy? What is your intention?

Reflecting on why I want to help farmers while helping the environment has been really key to my work. I’ve seen how much our farm has meant to me, my husband and two sons, my parents, my sister and her family. When we’re on the farm, everybody feels a deep sense of peace and connection. I'm driven to try to help preserve this agricultural way of life.

Lisa Schulte-Moore


2. Inquire.

Try to figure out the system.  Who are all the people and organizations that you need to talk with and work with to better understand the problem you’re addressing and to help solve it?

I realized that science didn’t have all the answers. Even if with the best natural science approaches, I would not get the right answers because I wasn’t including people in my system. But I couldn’t treat people like any other component of my model. People’s decisions are complex. If I wanted to get the people right, I needed to do a lot more listening and a lot less talking.

Elena Bennett


3. Connect.

How do you establish trusting relationships over time? How do you demonstrate commitment?

Use your existing networks to provide openings, introductions and opportunities.

Karen Lips


4. Engage.

How can you contribute to a shared vision of the work to be done, and then work to make that vision a reality?

When I arrived in Iraq, I promised myself I would not become one of the “one-hit wonders” who sweep in, full of Western wisdom and gadgets, only to rapidly swoop out. I formed a special bond with my Iraqi colleagues from the University of Basrah by confronting my ignorance about Iraq and asking my colleagues for help. I knew I had to find a way to make this connection lasting and meaningful.

Brian Helmuth


5. Strategize.

How do you develop, from the bottom up, thoughtful plans that lead to credible, relevant solutions that will work in the long run, not just the short term?

We built a bond of friendship with the priests in Ethiopia. We showed them pictures from Google Earth of the shrinking forests —a strategy that prompted them to work together to conserve their remaining forests.

Meg Lowman


6. Empower.

How can your collaborative action inspire ongoing leadership and transformation on the ground?

Reflecting back on my Leopold training, I feel it endowed me with superpowers: a set of skills that gave me the confidence and comfort to lead effective meetings that result in tangible outcomes. I learned to manage large interdisciplinary groups that can accomplish goals and deliver persuasive presentations that lead to action. None of these superpowers are really super. You don’t need any poison spider or genetic modifications to obtain them, just need a clear understanding of the processes and a bit of practice. 

Jill Caviglia-Harris


You've just heard the six knowledge-to-action leadership dimensions described from the perspective of individual Leopold leaders. These dimensions are equally essential in the context of teams working together. Just as individuals learn new practices to employ these leadership dimensions, high-performing teams learn to use them and to harness their collective knowledge and wisdom.

Collective leadership is critical in our transition to a sustainable planet. Invest in helping researchers cross boundaries and lead systems change to collectively accelerate transformations. Please share these stories, use the recommended resources with students, colleagues, and networks, and send us what you’ve found to be successful.