Leading from the Back and Front…Can It Be Done?

Since October, I’ve been working to organize a grassroots creative-economy movement in my town, yet finding myself necessary in the “front” as one of the founders of an Arts Collective (Uprise Art Collective).

In a nutshell, I’m struggling with the feeling that as long as I stay at the front of the room, others can’t step up and become powerful in leadership … but also sensing that I’m needed in this critical beginning period at that place in the front of the room.

So I’m trying to figure out how to best spend my time (which is all voluntary at this point) to build an organization characterized by strong internal commitment, a spirit of mutual support, inclusiveness, constant creativity and adaptation, and integrity as both a kind of inner leader and as an “organizer” of artists across the community.

Up until now we’ve been suffering what I know is typical in many groups, where inspired conversations that lead to people making commitments but, without a central coordinating person to follow up with those people, those commitments fall away and stuff just doesn’t get done. We’re at a point where we’re discussing exactly which projects we want to take on after we successfully held a “coming out” art show (see pics!) and several smaller-scale, more informal community-building events for artists.  I want each of these projects to be successful, and I want us to be an organization with “many doors” of concentric rings of leadership, us as a core in the middle, working with the leadership and talents of other artists just outside that core. But to get to the second circle, our own has got to be strong, committed, effective, and organized!

We have been able to define Roles within the Core (this has been a bit of an arduous process)—i.e., Treasurer, “Head Hunter,” Events Coordinators, etc.  But maybe due to our voluntary nature, a lot of plans that rest upon each person doing their part in their role fall through because people get busy, forget, or start to feel they aren’t cut out for that task and just don’t do it. (By the way I am just as guilty of this as anyone else!)

At the same time, the more we and I go out in the community and talk about what we’re doing, the more people stand up and say, “I want to be a part! How can I help?” Through my training in organizing, I both know how important it is not to leave these offers hanging, and I know I love and am pretty good at that kind of follow-up. But, I just can’t seem to make the time or find the “plan” to effectively help my organization get strong at it’s core around the challenges I mentioned above, AND make sure this follow-up happens.

So far, here’s what I’ve imagined might be my best action-path:

  1. Make the time (hard as it keeps proving) to sit down with each of my Core Team members and discuss what they envision as the best way to carry out their role, as well as the mission of the group in general.
  2. Practice transparency and put this question out to the group … “These are my skills, this is the challenge I see ahead of us right now, what do you all think we should do and what do you think I can do best for us to be successful?”
  3. Constantly speak with confidence and heart about the importance of being accountable to each other and communicating when we need help or can’t complete a task—and on the importance of this so that we can effectively engage the gifts, talents, leadership of our next outer ring of amazing enthusiastic friends.

To summarize, what I struggle with most of the time are the following:

  • Fear that my over-zealousness about the group drowns others’ energy to contribute (I am so full of ideas and though I try to keep opening it up for more ideas, I keep having this feeling). The real feeling that
    a lot of the core and outer supporters see this as “my brain-child” rather than something truly created
    by everybody involved, equally.
  • Frustration at things not getting done
  • Confusion on my own role—how and where to spend my time
  • Knowledge that, in general, I’m pretty sucky at delegation and trying to change that about myself

Has anyone ever had this experience of being an organizational leader trying to lead from the back?   Or have you gotten good enough at either to give me some tips?

~ April ~

About the Lead Author

April Doner
April Doner
April Doner lives and works as a Roving Illustrator, telling stories of community thriving, abundance, and people-powered change through writing, photography and art. Originally from the wave-kissed east coast of Florida, April has found her way to Indianapolis, IN to join community-based innovators De'Amon Harges and Anne Mitchell at Tesserae Learning. April is especially passionate about revealing and engaging the strengths of people, groups and neighborhoods who have been marginalized by labels of deficiency, and in working to redirect channels of faith and funding from deficiency-based approaches and into the lives of the "positive deviants"--the unseen and under-celebrated organizers, story-tellers, healers, artists and others who are actively making changes in their communities and neighborhoods. Through Tesserae and Aprilart Studios, she offers services to strengthen community including documentation, facilitation, trainings, workshops and consulting in Asset-Based-Community Development, Theory U and other practices, as well as a full range of artistic services. April is a Fellow with the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and a Steward of ABCD in Action.

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