This is the second article in our series on Circle Forward’s Eight Primary Principles of Collaborative Governance.  The first article on Trust is here.

When the elephant comes out of the corner and sits right on the table

A couple of years ago, Tracy and I were coaching a circle of non-traditional leaders in the tools and processes of collaborative governance.  They wanted the skill sets to build more inclusive governance within their communities, so they could organize a stronger voice to participate externally in the decisions that affected them.

Around the same time, we were working with a small business that was producing good revenue — lots of people buying what they were selling — but their internal operations were dysfunctional.  They were losing money every month and would have gone under without the steady infusion of cash from an investor.  Because the investor valued transparency, and believed that the staff could organize themselves in more functional ways, she brought a staff team to one of our two-day training seminars (which we no longer offer, btw, as we will explain below).

In both of these circles, about half-way through the coaching, just as the culture was starting to successfully transition to using Consent as the basis for governance, the board chair in the first case, and the investor in the second case, themselves took actions that sabotaged the process within their teams.

It wasn’t because of a lack of meaningful progress.  In both cases, the indicators for a successful endeavor were present:  the community leaders were attracting financial and other opportunities to participate in the larger policy arena; the business was operating with higher-than-ever employee morale and a positive cash flow.

Looking back, we realized later, the collaborative governance system we were teaching at the time was grounded in an engineering sort of rationality, and did not sufficiently address the social-emotional dimensions of human behavior.  A further refinement we made since then, is that we no longer take people out of their context to teach them principles for collaborative governance; rather, we offer “on-the-job training,” through an effective training delivery system that allows people to shape the collaborative governance principles to their particular organizational culture.

The Metaphor of the Rider and the Elephant

Originally presented by psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, and later picked up by Chip & Dan Heath in their 2nd book, Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, we (humans) have two sides:

  • An emotional/automatic/irrational side (the elephant)
  • An analytical/controlled/rational side (its rider).

Haidt says that “our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is the rider.  Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.”

The Heath brothers write: “Most of us are all too familiar with situations in which our Elephant overpowers our Rider.  You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever slept in, overeaten, dialed up your ex at midnight, procrastinated, tried to quit smoking and failed, skipped the gym, gotten angry and said something you regretted, abandoned your Spanish or piano lessons, refused to speak up in a meeting because you were scared, and so on.”

Weaving Emotional Intelligence into Systems of Governance

What Tracy and I have come to realize is the importance of weaving social-emotional dimensions of human behavior into the governance systems that guide decision-making and collaborative action. We’ve included Social-Emotional Skill-sets in our principles for collaborative governance.  Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis have proposed a framework that we have found very effective for articulating what we mean by this, in the Twelve Emotional Intelligence Competencies.

In our experience these competencies, or skill sets, relate to collaborative decision-making in two ways:

  1. A leader or leaders in a circle must possess a degree of emotional intelligence in order for the circle to successfully become collaborative and self-organizing, otherwise the person with the most power can undermine the transformation.
  2. Practicing the skill sets of collaborative governance (usually with coaching and support at first, and later as part of the circle’s culture) can provide the context for the members of the circle to increase their personal levels of emotional intelligence.

By learning and practicing the skill sets for collaborative governance, organizations can become more “leaderful,” (as defined in Joseph Raelin’s 2010 book The Leaderful Fieldbook) and those leaders can continually build their social and emotional competencies.

Goleman and his team have specified the following Twelve Emotional Intelligence Competencies:

1. Self-Awareness

Emotional Self-Awareness: Leaders who are attuned to their feelings and how they affect their job performance. They use their values to make decisions. Emotionally self-aware leaders are authentic and able to speak openly about their emotions.


2. Self-Management

Emotional Self-Control: People skilled at managing their emotions. Leaders with this skill remain calm and clear-thinking in stressful situations and hold on to their emotional balance.

Achievement Orientation:
 Leaders who hold themselves and others to high standards. They work toward challenging and measurable goals. They continually seek ways to improve their performance and that of their team.


Positive Outlook: These leaders see every situation as an opportunity, even those that may look like a setback to others. They see other people positively and expect them to do their best. They expect the changes in the future to be for the better.


Adaptability: Leaders with this skill handle many demands while staying focused on their goals. Uncertainty is both expected and comfortable for these leaders. They flex in response to new challenges and are quick to adjust to sudden changes.


3. Social Awareness

Empathy: Leaders who can comprehend an individual or group’s unspoken emotions. They listen well and easily grasp other’s perspectives. Empathetic leaders explain their ideas in ways other people understand and work well with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.


Organizational Awareness: Leaders who understands all aspects of an organization: where formal and informal power is held, relationships that provide opportunities for networking, conflicts, unspoken norms, and guiding values.


4. Relationship Management

Influence: Leaders who are skilled at appealing to others and developing buy-in from key players in a situation. They are engaging and persuasive with individuals and groups.


Coach and Mentor: Leaders who take interest in assisting others. They know the individuals with whom they work, including their strengths and goals. They give constructive feedback to coworkers and help others focus on growth opportunities.


Conflict Management: These leaders make an effort to recognize different perspectives. They focus on helping everyone find the common ground upon which they can agree. They allow everyone’s opinion and direct efforts toward finding an agreeable resolution.


Inspirational Leadership (Inspiration): A leader who inspires can move people. Their articulation of a shared mission causes others to join them. They show others the purpose behind their day-to-day work.


Teamwork: These leaders build an atmosphere of cooperation, helpfulness, and respect. They help others commit to the group’s effort. They help a team develop an identity, positive relationships, and spirit.


Over the next few months, our core team will be providing more description of the primary principles of collaborative governance, and we are curious to hear your feedback, suggestions and insights.   Contact us here or find us on one of the social media sites below.

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