New View EDU Episode 13: Giving Away Power for More Authentic Leadership

Available March 29

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We’re used to working and teaching in hierarchical structures, where power flows from the top down. But what would happen if, instead of maintaining power at the top, leaders gave power away to others? How could sharing power change the way we work, the way we relate to others, and the way we approach problem-solving? And what would schools look like if everyone was part of a constellation of contributors?

Matthew BarzunMatthew Barzun has always been fascinated by how we can stand out and fit in at the same time. His resume includes work in entrepreneurship, political campaigns, and U.S. ambassadorships to the United Kingdom and Sweden. In his book The Power of Giving Away Power: How the Best Leaders Learn to Let Go, he explores the idea of changing organizational structures from the more familiar pyramid to collaborative constellations. An independent school graduate, parent, and board member, Matthew thoughtfully explores the potential for constellation thinking in education.

This episode of New View EDU features a recording of Matthew’s live keynote conversation with NAIS Chief Innovation Officer Tim Fish at the 2022 NAIS Annual Conference. Starting from the unexpected point of the founding of our nation, Matthew delves into the question of how to create systems that allow each individual to be both unique and interconnected. How can we be “stars” in the constellation while also creating part of a bigger picture? And how does sharing power with others help to create that constellation? From political campaigns to Visa to Wikipedia, he shares case studies to demonstrate that giving away power may be the most powerful thing we can do to transform our work, our communities, and our world.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Matthew explore in this interview include:

  • How do we start giving power away, when we’re used to existing in pyramid-shaped hierarchies? 
  • What factors hold leaders back from giving away trust and autonomy to the people around them?
  • What is the role of “fruitful friction” in creating more dynamic systems?
  • In a world where social media platforms seem to have distributed power more equally to people, what are the pitfalls and ramifications of constellation thinking? 
  • How can we leverage constellation thinking to create schools and classrooms that are more deeply dedicated to “co-creation” and making understanding together?

Episode Highlights

  • “The problem with power sharing is it, because so much of us are in this pyramid mindset, it's sort of like, well, if I have 10 units and we share it, I guess I'll have five and you have five now. But what all these amazing leaders who inspired me realized was no, no, no, power isn't a finite thing, like something you mine in Western or Eastern Kentucky, like coal. It is something, it is infinite, and you make it. And you make it with other people sitting around a table, virtual or real. And it all begins with giving away power.” (14:28)
  • “Diversity and division. They have the same root, ‘div’. So what they love most and fear most has something to do with separateness. And so that, you know, now we see where it ends with the constellation. I was like, so they want to stand out as an individual like me, but they don't want to stand out so much that they're lonely. Right? So they want to stand out and fit in. And then I was like, boy, do we have a good image for that in the form of a constellation. Stand out, be special and form something special to you. Easy to say, hard to do.” (30:57)
  • “We want freedom together. And not some mushy compromise, right? Half freedom, half together. Freedom with and through one another…the hard part was how could we figure out how to be free together? Thirteen separate colonies. And we did a constitution and we, you know what I mean, all that kind of stuff. And we had a motto for it: From Many One. And we had an image that was supposed to go⁠—remember, he named that ship the USS Constellation. We had an image that's supposed to go with that motto.” (43:37)
  • “It cannot be isolated to the teacher or to the student or to the comedian or to the thing. It's this mutuality, it's this interdependence. It's the invisible. When someone shows you Orion's Belt, right? The lines aren't there, you have to imagine them. And then once you've seen them, you can't unsee them. And so that, I think, is what's going on here, that if we can find those connections, pass them onto the next generation, they will be alive and not be able to unsee them and be able to build useful, much more powerful things together than we could on our own.” (47:25)

Resource List

Full Transcript

About Our Guest

Matthew Barzun has always been fascinated about how we can stand out and fit in at the same time. He helped countries do both when he served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom and to Sweden. He helped citizens do both as National Finance Chair for Barack Obama by pioneering new ways for people to have a stronger voice in politics. And he helped tech consumers do both as an entrepreneur when he helped start CNET Networks in the early 1990s.

In his book The Power of Giving Away Power: How the Best Leaders Learn to Let Go, Barzun explores this idea, along with a new organizational shape and mindset: constellations. Organizations designed as constellations are dynamic and flexible networks of distinct yet interwoven individuals. Each member of the team feels like a singular star and is also connected to others to form something greater. That is how Visa reimagined how we pay for things, how Wikipedia beat the richest company in the  world, and how Barack Obama and his grassroots team revolutionized political campaigning. These leaders did what most leaders dread⁠—they gave away power. Through these examples and others, he encourages readers to consider "the power we can create by seeing the power in others.”