Creative Leadership and Community Building

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Leadership 

Culture 

Community Building 

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My visit to Kibbutz Afikim, how a community powers innovation through a social ethos.

A community can be defined as a group of people who are all working together with one goal in mind and a shared way of thinking. It’s powerful when you can get a group of people together to form high social capital which allows the formation of new ideas which do good to society. Afterall, when you think of a community, good things always come out of it and who doesn’t want that feeling of belonging in their own life.

robert kibbutz

I have several experiences of being part of healthy community life; this comes from my adventures of living and working overseas to being apart of the first co-living experience in London and the coworking scene. All of these insights have driven me to write a book on how a community can help to power business with high innovation and productivity, within the research for this title and within my own business, I have been spending time within the Israeli tech startup community. In itself, this start-up city is a prime example of strong community focus, something which has been embedded in local society and stems from the foundations of the Kibbutzim movement.

For those of you who are new to this word, a Kibbutz is a collection of active social communities which are based in Israel, with many starting life off in the 1920’s to 1930’s they helped to create the foundation blocks of Israel. Kibbutz in translation means a collective, a group of people with shared values and vision. This way of living drove my curiosity forward to learn more, which is why I spent time discovering this unique way of life at Kibbutz Afikim. This is a site which is located in northern Israel with the mountainous peaks of Golan Heights and the valley surrounding Galilee in the distance and the border of Jordan only a short walk away.

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From entering the site, you can sense the community vibe. From walking into the dining room, we were introduced to a kibbutznik who chatted to us and explained a little more about what was going on. I travelled up to this site with a German friend as we were visiting her family at Afikim. It was only later on when I was asking questions on what makes a Kibbutz a Kibbutz? I found out that one of the key answers to this was the dining room. A social hub of the community where people come to eat, drink and chat and without this function, the kibbutz and its social meaning would disappear. A walk around Afikim amazed me, here I was in northern Israel but surrounded by the most beautiful plants and grounds, we were walking past the floral decor which entices your senses of smell while being engaged with this heavenly garden backdrop. Afikim, like with many Kibbutz started life off around agriculture. On this visit, we had a drive around the farmland of bananas, olives, avocado, and dates. The agricultural side to the Kibbutz was a traditional money earner for the community. However, most sites branched off into different directions from this. Afikim now has a successful dairy business (Afimilk) alongside mobility. It was the innovation of community life which enticed me to see a Kibbutz. I have a real passion to understand more about how a collective of people thinking together can create something special, and this Kibbutz site certainly didn’t let me down.

Not long after the land was bought to build this site in 1932, innovation was already starting to happen. A majority of the founding Kibbutzniks at Afikim came from Russia, and when setting up the community, they developed a successful Aqueduct system between Afikim and the adjacent Kibbutz locations to ensure water was piped into the social project. Not long after this, the Kibbutzniks were building and selling boxes to hold fruit and vegetables which were then adapted and supplied to the British Army during the 1940’s. After the war the transcultural community was growing and the Kibbutz (like with many at the time had increased in population and nationality). This made it an interesting social project with high ambition, and ideas came about which helped the Kibbutz to develop industry more. Paper and materials for furniture made from various plants including Ecapytus allowed the Kibbutz a new source of income. Although they didn’t have the right plants to grow initially, they brought them over from southern Africa; an idea from a French man and a French company to take them to the Kibbutz. Like with any business model, they hit a block with this idea; the kibbutzniks didn’t have the glue to stick the product together; however, this was nothing that a collective group of minds could not solve and the solution was right in front of them (literally). In the form of cows, they used the milk and dried it to create a glue and industry was booming.

The investment came from this and was put back into the community which allowed them to buy bigger machines, and through entrepreneurial mindsets, the remaining sectors of Afikim which are still running today formed. This includes Afiscooters, an idea which came from a Kibbutznik on this site to help his elderly mother travel around this vast space of land. Not only does Afimilk produce milk but they invented the milking machine which checks the amount and quality of the milk which is now sold globally. From chatting to a family of Kibbutzniks, you could see how proud they were of this sites technical background which has come from the ideas of residents. The ethos of Kibbutz life is to share, and if someone has a genius idea for the community, it is the whole community which will benefit from it. The success of these business ideas and a strong social bond on site are essential to the success of a Kibbutz and helped Afikim turnover 300m NIS last year!

Even though the Kibbutz is making good money and Kibbutznik numbers on the rise, it has not always been plain sailing in Kibbutz life. The 1980’s saw rocky waves in many Kibbutz sites in Israel as money from Kibbutz businesses were invested into outside projects, and that went with the global financial crisis. To top this, numbers were small and it was seen that this idyllic lifestyle was no longer fashionable. It was clear that the Kibbutz sites had to change ways! When they were originally developed, everything was shared. Even your clothes; what you put in the launderette would not be what you got out, and even your Childs name was decided as a community. This is no longer the modern way of kibbutz life, even the properties in Afikim were handed to the Kibbutzniks now rather than being kibbutz owned. And with all the stresses of modern life and loneliness, you can see why Kibbutz sites as with any co-living option are proving popular; Israel is already having inner city Kibbutz’s growing and another outer city kibbutz also turning into a business incubator.

Kibbutzniks have a good life with a great education system. Afikim has an onsite college with 2000 residents and a college to keep the elderly minds working with 800 students. Kibbutzniks also benefit from free medical care, high pensions alongside arts and cultural events which are all paid for out of the profit pot from the industry, and all this for a small membership fee. Although this is a modern life of a Kibbutz, it hasn’t changed from some fundamental social values that started these communities. However, some ethos changed to those back in 1932. The key starting theories of Kibbutz life back in the day were about the image of the new Jew, kibbutzniks wanted a more masculine image, and it was seen more about the new “Ivrit” or Hebrew rather than Jew as they wanted to distance themselves from the religion. Key foundation blocks of the community were also about being with nature and creating a democracy; this still exists today with an elected leader in the Kibbutz being in power for two years with some small sets of rules which Kibbutzniks need to follow to embrace community life.

 

kibbutz events
Events board for the community

 

It is important to understand that a Kibbutznik needs to contribute to the community in any way, many skills sharing and co-learning experiences happen within these sites, this is something which I believe is a crucial foundation to any community as it helps to develop and build up high trust and transparency. However, a life balance of community and privacy is needed and this is demonstrated as modern day Kibbutz homes now have a private kitchen alongside the sharing of the dining room hub.

When I visited this site, Afikim is celebrated its 93rd year of existence, something which is remarkable and shows you what can happen when you put a group of people together with a shared interest in wanting to create something. This could be a social or business related background, but it is amazing to see this site all these years later as a community which is a town, fully functional and self-sufficient in many ways.

So what about the future of the Kibbutz? From speaking to Kibbutzniks the future looks good with people wanting to belong to something, and many old members are now moving back into the sites with families for security, better quality of life, education and healthcare which are provided from the entrepreneurial wing. Some original kibbutz sites have changed direction, and are more of a town without the essential community functions such as the dining room. Locations such as Afikim have stayed as a Kibbutz but have adapted and are also helping to grow smaller private business within site, have a drive around Afkim and you will see carpentry workshops to retail shops. One thing is clear; people have chosen to come here as they want a social belonging whether they work inside or outside the site.

A Review on Leadership

Autocratic Leadership is not a new concept; however, it’s becoming increasingly popular with new managers because it involves trust and develops ethics. Other new forms of leadership are being introduced which includes neuroscience which analyses how the brain responds to different situations and something a leader should consider when implementing any strategic change into the organisation.

It’s important to remember that while some people are natural leaders, others can be taught the skills, but it’s the style of leadership that has changed and keeps evolving. There are also many different theories leaders need to be aware of regarding direction and management techniques when implementing new approaches to the business, which will critically evaluate by reviewing:
• Creativity
• Innovation
• Strategic Change

I’m going to be looking into different leadership styles and what makes them successful alongside the qualities of what makes a good leader. Is it someone who looks at the behaviour of the team? Someone who likes to develop the individual or does it take someone with more a psychology approach such as neuroscience to understand the mental processes?

Different theories suggest that various types of leadership are more useful in different situations, but which is the right one to choose and can people be developed in leadership? Goleman (1995) has written about the importance of Emotional Intelligence  (EI) and how it plays a critical part in team development which managers and leaders need to take seriously. In his findings, he writes that a person’s emotional intelligence can be developed and can be more fortunate to team development instead of IQ. This could be argued, as many people comment that someone’s IQ could be increased with the appropriate learning and development to support the individual. However, Goleman states that by developing EI, it raises the performance of a person with motivation and self-awareness and it would influence different leadership styles which would become more visionary with coaching and pace-setting.

In agreement with Goleman’s theory is John Adair whose work in his action centred approach to leadership model suggests that the development of the individual is critical for a leader to focus in. However, a strong leader would also need to look at the elaboration of the team and achieving the task.

By reviewing this action centred model, John Adair suggests that by focusing on just one area will not accomplish the task and a leader would need to look at all three consistently. Action centred leadership suggests that motivation is at the core of a high-performance team and this is reflected in the direction style. Thoughts on this theory include; the leadership model having an impact on the motivation of the team and the development of a better wage also creating motivation.

Management Today (2014) recently published an article claiming that the UK’s poor productivity rate reflects the businesses which are directly paying their workforce the minimum wage. The report suggests a labour force should be paid fairly and it is up to the leaders of the organisation to avoid losing jobs if this happens. The report directs itself into the case study based on Kingsmill and demonstrates a contradiction because the bread business writes that as well as high wages the leaders need to ensure the productivity stays high through training and innovation which is linked to the action centred model to drive the best from team performance.

Building a team

Building and maintaining the team cannot be achieved unless the individual and the group are professionally developed. If a leader leaves one area of the overlap untouched, then the whole project wouldn’t become successful. This approach demonstrates a different way of working compared to previous management styles which might have suggested a more autocratic, controlled workforce.

Looking back, the 1990’s saw the shift from hierarchy to a flatter organisational structure. The Chartered Institute of Management developed a report which looks at the removal of domination and more coordination styles of leadership alongside the introduction of more team work and more empowerment to the individual, but does this happen in every workplace? No, in some work situations a more controlled environment needs to be considered such as a call centre where strict regulations and targets are in place.

Leadership in Travel

Harriet Green (former Thomas Cook CEO) compliments the removal of domination theory by stating in a recent interview that before her starting at the holiday giant, the board was run by typical male English and German businessmen who had no reflection and now there are three women sat on the board the leadership reflects the business. Green’s comments could come across as sexist. However, she is only making the point that she and her leaders were in tune with the operation of Thomas Cook, its employees, and the customers.

This report by Saunders comments that before being CEO at Thomas Cook, Green went after the leadership roles in her career that the average person striving for success didn’t want as she felt that in those roles, she could relate to the business more as a leader who helped her to develop. The dictatorship days have gone, and management in a 21st-century office need to be more aware of the social skillset required within the job. “Human skills help the leader to work more efficiently with subordinates, peers, and superiors to accomplish the organisation’s goals” Katz (1955).

Great Person Theories

Katz’ study that all these skills (human, technical and conceptual) need to be implemented for a leader to succeed, the study illustrates the skills of a leader are very different from the traits (which is what a leader is) this gives us the impression that skills can be taught. The key area that we are looking at in this study is that at all levels of management and leadership human qualities are essential and when you review his studies, it’s hard to understand why social skills would not be necessary.

One of the most common types of leadership is authentic which demonstrates that the leader needs to build trust, have ethics and self-awareness. These skills involve sociable skills and relate to the human skills that Katz introduced and would be the foundation to management leading a team with Adir’s action centred leadership model.

This is a very different approach to the first stages of leadership which included “Great Person Theories.” Upon researching this method, Potter (2014) suggests this style of leadership has lost significant popularity as it often followed the theme that the leader is always right. Referring to the previous research in this paper, it seems appropriate to say that some environments are more controlled whereas other workplaces need to be developed under great person theory style of leadership.