Leadership Ensemble Builders Inc.

One of the many things I recently learned from working on a Habitat for Humanity project was how important shared leadership and ownership are to the success of a group project.

By Dean Horowitz, Publisher | March 31, 2002


Dean Horowitz, Publisher

One of the many things I recently learned from working on a Habitat for Humanity project was how important shared leadership and ownership are to the success of a group project.

While watching the teams work on each home, I was thinking about a management book I must have read a decade ago that used goose migration as an example of effective teamwork. Geese have the shared goal of self-preservation. The flight leader takes on the most wind and strain, allowing the rest of the flock to move with increased efficiency and speed. Once the leader tires, another goose takes the leadership position, and its predecessor moves to a less strenuous but just as important role as a follower. The birds behind the leader gain a recognized lift from the leader’s efforts and stay in formation, ensuring that the V pattern continues to be effective. And should a bird become ill during flight, two others will stay behind, ensuring its safety and waiting for the opportunity to create or join another V formation.

The Reed Residential Group (formerly the Cahners Residential Group) recently entered its own movement into shared leadership. Our team read Leadership Ensemble, Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World’s Only Conductorless Orchestra and has taken on the challenge of moving in a somewhat new direction, together. “Somewhat” because we already were informally implementing some elements of what the book discusses; “new” because we were not heading in the direction as an entire group.

While the book focuses on the removal of the traditional dictatorial (command/control) conductor and replacing that role with shared group leadership, the power is not in the removal of the vision, structure or accountability that comes with a single leader. Instead, in its place are a structure and atmosphere that spread this role out to multiple “professionals” who become more powerful, more united and more creative, and who ultimately deliver a more meaningful product for their customers.

The book’s subject is the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which plays at Carnegie Hall in New York. It has incorporated a number of ideas into its work that are absolutely relevant to home building. It starts with not just professionals but professionals who are willing to work three times harder to achieve “perfection” in their creations. These individuals then are viewed as equals, and their group leaders become “first among equals.” These group leaders develop a consensus strategy for their projects that involves discussion and compromise. They focus on achieving perfection and are in a constant state of refinement and improvement. It could mean working all night after a performance to change the structure and arrangements for the next day’s performance. All agree to do this because they respect each other’s contributions and share the same goals and desires.

The eight steps to achieving a conductorless orchestra as described in the book are: 1) Put the power in the hands of the people doing the work; 2) encourage individual responsibility; 3) create clarity of roles; 4) share and rotate leadership; 5) foster horizontal teamwork; 6) learn to listen, learn to talk; 7) seek consensus (and build structures that favor consensus); and 8) dedicate passionately to your mission.

Many builders are incorporating aspects of this management style in the homes and communities they produce. Only a few, however, are recognizing the abilities and inner desires of the people who are doing the work and truly want to be involved in the construction of the house that achieves perfection. The power of these individuals fully engaged in the construction process is a benefit to the whole organization that is too powerful to dismiss.


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