Community Learning Exchange

Tips for Building Collective Leadership

What does collective leadership mean?

In short, it revolves around the idea of using our human, cultural and technological resources to bring people together in local communities to make positive change. Collective leadership is an integral part of our work at the Community Learning Exchange.

Collective leadership becomes possible when people, motivated by a common purpose, begin to build relationships with each other that are genuinely respectful enough for them to co-construct their shared purpose and work. Regardless of age, race, gender, orientation or background, people must have safe spaces created to come together to solve the problems in their communities. This, however, is easier said than done. Collective leadership within community building is ongoing and complex— it does not happen overnight.

It is cyclical, identifying the strengths and potential of individuals in a group and then, collectively, moving towards transformative change for the whole community.

Tips for Effective Collective Leadership


Most importantly, all members of the group must be willing to change themselves and their thinking. Collective leadership opens up room for many perspectives and possibilities through the lens of different experiences and worldviews.

Meeting in concentric circles at the Seattle CLE in May 

Four Stages

These four stages are common threads in collective leadership. All are important for healthy, meaningful and long-lasting outcomes.
1. Build Trust
2. Co-Construct Purpose and a Strategic Plan
3. Act Together
4. Deepen, Sustain, Make Work a Way of Life

Four Elements

The four elements of collective leadership, when used throughout the four stages, shape the outcome of a group’s efforts.
A. Know Community
B. Build a Strong Team
C. Develop the Individual
D. Make the Change

Though there are multiple elements to collective leadership, knowing your community creates a solid foundation throughout the process, from setting the initial framework to creating sustainable, long-term community change.

Knowing Your Community in Four Stages

1. Build Trust with the Members of Your Group

Building trust begins with the willingness to listen to and learn from the stories and perspectives of others within your community. Explore your own history, and identify successful changes and how they came about. Be willing to embrace the merit in other perspectives and experiences within the group and allow yourself to be challenged — learn, empathize, examine and unlearn.

These groups must be intergenerational and inclusive, creating safe spaces for deep emotions and difficult conversations. These conversations are necessary and create opportunity to deal with tension in positive ways.

Conversation from the Central Texas CLE in 2012

2. Understand the Language In and About Your Community

Differences in culture and meanings assigned to words exist and, if not explored and understood beforehand, threaten to create miscommunication and misaligned goals. A new, shared language with defined meanings should be developed for and about the community within the group.

3. Build a Network of Community Allies

Gather other individuals who will work with you for the collective health of the community. These allies should not only join the work, but be united in the experience of fostering deep relationships centered around a shared passion.

4. Engage and Expand the Work as Part of the Community Fabric

As the group grows, new issues within the community can be tackled. Engage and expand, welcoming others to join in the work so that the impact can reach further into all areas of the community and address more of its needs.

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