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Why Multi-Dimensional Leadership?

For the “collaboration” and “inclusion” required in today’s world, a multi-dimensional model of leadership serves better than the outdated hierarchical (one-dimensional) structure. It’s a change though to go from leadership based upon a few to leadership where everyone leads in one-way or another. In multi-dimensional leadership, people, regardless of title or role, are empowered to lead with agility and fluidity.

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in the Pope Francis Challenge with Atlanta’s Habitat for Humanity. What a great experience from two perspectives. First, people were fulfilled by meaningful work and a deep sense of belonging. Secondly, the organizational system developed and evolved for effectiveness throughout the day.

This build was not my first with Habitat. I had participated in full-day working sessions here in the states  and been on blitz builds internationally. These builds have occurred in various locations with diverse people from dissimilar cultures, speaking different languages. And yet, my experiences have been similar from one build site to the next in this regard: people who don’t know each other connect around a common goal, form a well-functioning organizational system and produce amazing results in short-order.

“How does that happen? What’s the secret?,” I’ve wondered after each experience. With the Pope Francis build, however, I was inspired and curious to do more than wonder. I wanted to understand the organizational systems I had been part of. By studying what occurred, I uncovered that a dimensional leadership model was behind the effectiveness of all these builds.

Dimensional Leadership Starts with Engagement & Empowerment

Four factors at each work site set the stage for engagement and empowerment at the individual, team and group levels:

  • Meaningful purpose to serve with personal responsibility
  • Interconnectedness built on a willingness to create from each other
  • Collaborative ways of leveraging resources to continually adapt
  • Awareness to the environment, adjusting and accommodating as required

These four factors drove people’s desire to participate. But there was more. Full permission.

By that I mean that there was no hierarchy at the build sites. United around a common vision and the tasks at hand, participants stepped up with full permission to serve as a leader in one way or another. By leading in one way or another, they provided, in various ways, what was needed from moment to moment.

They were leaning into what Karen and Henry Kimsey-House call a multi-dimensional leadership model. In their book Co-Active Leadership: 5 Ways to Lead, the Kimsey-Houses say the following about that model:

“In any project or community, there are many different leaders, each leading in different ways with people changing roles fluidly. [ …] We are all leaders in one way or another, and when we choose to be responsible for what is happening around us, we are able to work together in a way that includes and utilizes the unique talents of everyone.” (Kimsey-House 20-21 in the iBook format)

Dimensional Leadership Evolves with Agility and Fluidity

Karen and Henry explain their model and define each of the five dimensions as follows:

Multi-dimensional leadership: a system, characterized by agility, in which leadership is not driven by roles and titles, but rather by what is needed in the moment.

This leadership model offers five ways to lead. The five ways described below are designed to work together with agile leaders shifting fluidly from one dimension to another.

dimensional leadership

Dimensional Leadership from Co-Active Leadership: 5 Ways to Lead

  • Leader Within – engaging self-acceptance and self-authority and showing up with integrity and open heartedness
  • Leader in Front – offering guidance and inspiration, inclusion and connection while providing clear direction and rationale
  • Leader Behind – supporting and encouraging others while providing what is needed behind the scenes
  • Leader Beside – creating partnerships around the common vision and demonstrating a willingness to lead or follow depending on what is required
  • Leading in the Field – expanding attention to connect with the energetic field that surrounds life and brings forth intuition, instinct and knowing

Participants, grounded in their Leader Within, flowed in and out of Leader in Front, Leader Behind, Leader Beside and Leader in the Field, depending on the situation.

Most participants showed up without pre-assigned roles or titles, and it’s safe to say that they did not have knowledge of this model or an intention to lead. And yet, there it was in full working order just as Karen and Henry described in their book.

“In this multi-dimensional model of leadership, everyone has within them the capacity to lead, and any organization or community is most dynamic, most alive, and most productive when there is a commitment to leadership at every level.” (Kinsey-House 27 in the iBook format)

Productivity resulted for sure. But more than that, aliveness was felt throughout the workplace. Play, creative giving, shared laughter and insights, exploration and a pursuit of excellence permeated the space. Participants gave themselves fully to the experience and received all that the experience had to offer in return.

With out a doubt, these communities of volunteers were dynamic, alive and productive. Why? We were all truly part of a whole that was bigger than the sum of its parts.

Imagine if there were more workplaces like the one I just described. What could your leadership and organizational system find with leaders at every dimension?

Interested in learning more about this multi-dimensional model? A great place to start is by reading Co-Active Leadership: 5 Ways to Lead by Karen and Henry Kinsey-House.