Re-Storying Leadership

by Tarra Christoff | March 2008

I BELIEVE THAT WE ARE ALREADY writing new definitions of leadership. As we provide hospice to the crumbling old-paradigm models, we're actively creating new, healthier, and more inclusive ones. I've seen a longing for new ways to facilitate sacred leadership that serves on a personal, social, and global level.

When I use the word "leader," I don't define it in the conventional sense. I'm talking about social artists who are committed to embodying the authenticity of who they are so that they can respond to challenges in ways that are creative, sustainable, and empowered. We are all the potential leaders of tomorrow.

For many of us committed to leading social change, the danger of feeling burned out, angry, powerless, overwhelmed, and full of grief is real. We connect to personal and collective suffering in our desire to make a difference. Traditional leadership models can lead to a sense of isolation, power struggles, breakdowns in collaboration, and a sense of feeling disconnected.

The Matrix Model offers an empowering way to relate to ourselves as social change artists. It's fundamentally different than any other model of leadership that I've encountered and has deeply impacted how I approach my work. Before experiencing the Matrix principles, I often felt that I was wearing a role named "coach" or "facilitator," but was not bringing the fullness of who I am into my work. The experiential nature of the training helped me to embrace my vulnerability and share my own process when it serves the client or the group.

Social change leaders often dive into fixing the problem that needs the most immediate solution. Consequently, instead of beginning by connecting to one another and grounding our relationships in what is positive and appreciated, there can be a tendency to focus on what's wrong. The beauty of the Matrix model is that it begins with focusing on strengths and giving feedback to one another as a way of cultivating relationships. I find this helpful because in many groups there is not enough time spent on developing the connections among members that can inspire heart-centered collaboration.

Through a Matrix approach, we discover the collective intelligence of the group and are better equipped to find creative responses to the challenges we face. We begin to awaken from the trance of separateness. Leadership shifts from a top-down paradigm to an opportunity for radical inclusivity and shared responsibility. It invites us to value differences and all the complexities that those differences entail.

Matrix training helped me to work more effectively with shadow or taboo aspects of the group field. Often, those of us committed to social change don't want to admit to our hopelessness, despair, cynicism, scapegoating or rage. That is either too messy or there's not enough time to tend to this evocative inner landscape. The Matrix principles invite us to explore disowned territories so that the group can become an open system. I have discovered that true community cannot emerge until all voices are invited to have space, even the ones that are uncomfortable.

I have seen too many groups fall prey to the dynamics of scapegoating or marginalizing an individual who holds a difference that makes the group uncomfortable. Even at times in my Matrix group, I felt that I was carrying the voice of despair about the state of our world. I was in an intense state of grief and felt alone because my perception was that other members of the group did not share this pain. Amina skillfully guided other individuals to express their own versions of this pain, and I discovered that I was not alone at all.

As others shared their own responses to intense suffering-anger, oppression, hopelessness, cynicism, hope and despair-the intensity of my own feelings diminished. We all have times when we carry something on behalf of the group. The danger lies in believing that it is simply our personal story and choosing to keep it private.

As we connect to different aspects of our inner and outer experiences, our personal stories and feelings carry medicine that supports healing of others and the group. The more that we access and share these parts of our own experience, the more space we can give others to do the same. This creates a group where each voice is valued beyond the personal as an expression of the whole. In my Matrix Comprehensive Training, I experienced a profound sense of community and felt seen by the group in ways that I've never experienced before. I believe that it is inside this sacred vessel that authentic community — and leadership — can be birthed.

It's a tremendous challenge to create a new story for leadership in our culture, particularly in the area of social and cultural change. It's also a wonderful opportunity. Matrix is powerful because it helps leaders of all backgrounds to remove obstacles in group life in order to surrender to the river of collective intelligence. The Matrix Leadership model offers a blueprint for transforming our lives, our groups, and our communities so that, together, we can begin the global healing that is being is called for in our world.

Tara Christoff has a passion for social change and focuses her private coaching practice and group work on leaders who are interested in approaching social change from a new paradigm model. She works with those who long to integrate their spiritual life into their work and bring forward the richness of who they are. She completed the four-phase Matrix Comprehensive Training in the San Francisco Bay area in 2007. She has previously published an article about how the next generation of leaders is already taking shape. Many of us are asking questions about leadership. What does it mean to be a leader of change? How can we embrace a new paradigm model of leadership? What will the next generation of leadership look like when put into practice?


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What we really trained in was a language of connection (verbal and nonverbal) so that where we were once limited, we are now expansive, where we were once stuck we are now spacious, where we were once paralyzed by fear, we are now ready to lean into discomfort.
— A. Lessing
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Chicago, IL