“Following is Sexy”: The New Mantra in Community Leadership?


Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Fall Conference for Community Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by CJ Callen, Program Director at CFLeads.

By:  CJ Callen

At lunch today I heard Jeff Javis of What would Google do fame. A few key messages: know what business you’re in and run it like Google – you know what that means? Open, democratic, less control (yields greater trust), collaborative, social, etc. If you have engaged in any online community, you get it. Translating this emerging (and undeniable) wisdom back into whatever business you are in is another matter.

What was implied in statements like the need to learn how to “get out of the way,” I will try to make explicit: the changes we see in the world of business will have a tremendous impact on the concept of leadership. Since community leadership is being practiced by more and more of the folks attending this conference, this also has tremendous implications for their work.

Leadership not about controlling from the top down, setting the agenda and moving forward. Leadership is about listening, allowing the agenda to emerge and getting out of the way. Community foundations will be tested by this notion. A good place to start is to reexamine the way they look at leadership. They will need to discern the difference between those times when they need to lead (as catalytic change agents) and when they need to follow. In the latter case, they will be taking on the role of good talent agents who are able to spot other sources of leadership more suitable for getting the particular task done. They will need to make following sexy to their staff, donors and boards.

Lessons in leadership that will help community foundations learn how to lead/follow/develop new leaders can be found in unusual places. If you have not seen the “dancing guy” video and what it teaches us all about leadership (including the vital role of the first follower), here’s your chance.


Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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