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What is Co-Active Leadership?

Posted on May 29, 2019

Leadership. The word conjures up images of stalwart faced people (mostly MEN in my imagination, I notice) bravely leading a company, a country, a movement. Clear direction and purpose, inspirational speeches by people who have the position and power to really make something happen.

In writing this post, I wanted to get an understanding of how we collectively define leadership, so I consulted my online dictionary and found this:

Lead·er·ship [lee-der-ship]


1. the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group: He managed to maintain his leadership of the party despite heavy opposition. Synonyms: administration, management, directorship, control, governorship, stewardship, hegemony.

2. ability to lead: As early as sixth grade she displayed remarkable leadership potential. Synonyms:authoritativeness, influence, command, effectiveness; sway, clout.

3. an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction: They prospered under his strong leadership.

4. the leaders of a group: The union leadership agreed to arbitrate.

Okay, maybe not so helpful. However, the synonyms are fairly telling: management, control, authoritativeness, command, clout. Really. CLOUT?????

No wonder we are in a bit of a pickle with leadership in our world today. It’s clear that our top down, command and control structures aren’t working. While hierarchy is a dandy structure for getting things done, it’s a breathtakingly ineffective at empowering people and calling forth their very best.

So, what if “leadership” was a verb rather than a noun? What if leadership was not defined by position or title but instead was measured by people’s willingness to respond and create solutions that were truly in the best interest of everyone? What if robust, engaged followership were actually considered a FORM of leadership?

What if we stepped, once and for all into the collective understanding that every single person who drew a breath had a role to play and was an integral part of resolving the challenges that face us? Yes, we all have DIFFERENT skills and abilities and it may be time to get over the notice that those who have MORE (however MORE gets measured) are the only ones who can lead.

In order to generate this shift, we must begin thinking about leadership as relational rather than structural and a collaboration rather than a domination. In other words, we must begin thinking about leadership as Co-Active.

So what is Co-Active Leadership and what is the opportunity that it offers? As a reminder, here’s our definition of Co-Active:

Co-Active represents the paradoxical balance between two primary energies of life:

Co:  Relationship, holding, space, BEING?
Hyphen:  Non-duality, PARADOX?
Active:  Action, certainty, clarity, DOING

Applied to leadership, Co-Active invites an approach that is interactive and dynamic rather than static or dogmatic and focuses on responding in the moment CREATIVELY based on what is most needed, most useful for all right now in this moment.

Co-Active Leadership also understands that this capacity to respond, to create rather than react is nascent in all people. While the EXPRESSION of this capacity may differ depending on role the CAPACITY is within us all.

Lastly, Co-Active Leadership orients from a place of service rather than a place of ego. Instead of emphasizing looking good and getting it right, Co-Active Leadership embraces authenticity and failure.

As I bring this post to a close, I realize that there many other distinctions of Co-Active Leadership yet to be expressed. I’d love to hear from you. For those of you who have some experience with Co-Active Leadership, what distinctions feel most important to you? For those of you who are new to Co-Active Leadership, I’d love to hear what you think about what I’ve written and what feels important to you about this topic. Thank you for reading and for being in this conversation with me. It matters. . .as do you!

Written By

Karen Kimsey-House

Karen Kimsey-House, MFA, CPCC, is the Co-founder and CEO of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the oldest and largest in-person coach training school in the world, and the co-author of the best-selling Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Karen was one of four pioneers of the coaching profession, and in honor of its 20th birthday this year, she is sharing her insights about human transformation in a ten-part HuffPost series,"Disrupt Your Life in a Good Way".