The G Blog #Insights

Collaborative Leadership Reflections

Romy Krämer, Jan 2024

Why Leadership?

Going on a retreat during the first half of January felt a little counterintuitive at first. But when I received the invitation for a Collaborative Leadership Retreat, I decided to go with my gut, instead of worrying about kicking off the year in full action mode. Turns out, it was precisely what the doctor ordered, considering the participatory governance and collective resourcing experiment that we’ve been running at Guerrilla. Not only could I take deep breaths while scanning the horizon and recharge my batteries in the Spanish winter sun, it was also a much-needed opportunity to take an honest look at the traumas and patterns underlying my way of ‘leading’. This resulted in a couple of much more substantial action points and goals for the year than my never ending to-do list offered at the beginning of January. 

So why did I overcome my cringe at the word leadership in the first place and decided to spend 5 days away from my family while others were kicking off the work-year? First, I trusted Rich and Nati and the rest of The Hum team to create a compelling experience that would bring together an interesting set of individuals. My minimum expectation was to be able to spend some time in conversation with relevant peers grappling with similar questions related to their positions of power, their facilitation of emergent strategic processes and space-holding for teams operating in internally and externally challenging contexts. I also felt that 2023 deserved a proper reflection – and frankly also some de-jinxing – to properly close it and move onward in good spirits – carving some time and space outside of my usual context and work was essential in achieving this. 

So overall, it was the hope for high-quality peer exchange and support plus the expectation of having space for reflection and closure that drew me into this much more than the idea of ‘learning’ collaborative leadership. Happy to report that both of these hopes were more than fulfilled – including a small fire ritual that allowed me to literally let the 2023 ghosts go up in flames #toxicbambiwasexorcised #teaminsidejoke. 

The Journey

Unlike my usual ‘defiant student’ persona, this time I made a complete journey through the agenda as it was laid out to us by the on-point-hosting team on the first evening: 

Day 1: Dreaming up my idea of how collaborative leadership might look and feel within Guerrilla in vivid images. This involved people sitting around tables of food, children playing in the background and temporary co-living for intense relationship and co-creation work. Humbleness, calm and the ability to set good boundaries grounded in a solid connection to my body stood out for me on that day as things to work on. The journey for me seems to be learning to value these former while also living into and staying connected to assertiveness,  sense of direction and urgency which I possess in abundance. A quote from Prentis Hemphill in a.m. brown’s book ‘Holding Change‘ that I read at the retreat stuck with me: “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”

On Day 2, challenge/reflecting on the current reality was the order of the day. And man did that one simple iceberg exercise get me deep into my beliefs about myself and the childhood experiences these are grounded in! While none of this was news to me, there it was, beautifully laid out and connected to my daily behaviors in the workplace. I had to take a break from the group to stay with this instead of falling back into busy chatter about more easy specific questions I am also carrying. Good thing that the others took off to explore the surrounding mountains that afternoon! Thanks @Nati for the support and note to self: do more therapy to figure out how to do this self compassion thing and accept all my parts, even the weak ones. Easy, right? 

Day 3 was all about action planning. Troika consulting stood out as a great tool here and let me leave with enormous amounts of gratitude for two peers pointing out lovingly but firmly the obvious: it’s not about fitting self care into my over-full agenda to create even more pressure and stress but about making space first without any intention of filling that space with anything work-related any time soon. Possibly one of the hardest things I’ll ever do – if I get it done. 


So here I am with a to-do list very different from the one I started the year with. It’s mainly about creating space and looks something like this: 

  • Marie-Kondoing my agenda. Decide which work projects to let go of this year in order to be able to work 4 instead of 5 days a week in 2024, beginning as soon as possible. 
  • The only things that are allowed to fill those free days are: sitting on the sofa doing absolutely nothing (so far something I fail at every single time I try), going for walks, spending time with my partner and son, therapy and catching up on urgently needed health-related appointments.  
  • Open space for the Guerrilla team to step into the space created by my stepping back. But also hold this process without leaving a void. Facilitate the creation of structures and processes that decentralise power and responsibility and focus on what’s needed for each of us for this to happen.  
  • Have compassion for myself and others in the process, for example when I feel challenged or fail to live up to this plan and when things go differently than I would have done them.   

As if this list isn’t enough, I am also returning with a full heart, lots of gratitude and a bucket full of small ideas for impromptu improvements to our internal work processes. Shoutout to all of you amazing retreat participants who held each other through difficult conversations and who made space for themselves to grow amidst deep personal transitions, the worry about the genocide in Gaza, the upcoming European elections and how polarisation plays out in your organisation! Thanks to the organisers who beautifully modeled collaborative leadership and left space for us to hold all of this in a beautiful temporary collective. 

I want to close this with the beautiful summary given by one of the participants in the closing round: “leadership isn’t about becoming someone else. It’s about becoming more you and allowing that also for others in the process.

*see also: Why Im Hosting a Leadership Retreat by Richard D. Bartlett 

“if opportunity doesn’t knock, then build your door”