Collaborative Visionary Leaders – holding the flame and sharing the warmth. (Guest blog by Kel Timmons)

Firstly I’d like to thank Jelenko and the team for involving me in this exciting project – ROADMENDER Spark.  Everyone has great knowledge to share, I feel hugely honoured to be a part of this.  Thank you.

For this blog I have focused on the role of visionaries as leaders within collaborative environments, particularly visionaries of creative and community based projects where there is sometimes little or no direct financial remuneration.

Using collaboration to grow a person’s vision obviously requires good leadership; and this can be the case with shared vision too. In my opinion, good collaborative leaders are often skilled and passionate visionaries.  In my experience a good visionary leader (a skilled ideas person) needs to passionately believe in their vision but be open to the creative process, be self-interested but fair and transparent, and, in the case of collaborative leadership, should be skilled at creating space for sharing and providing and receiving support.  I have also realised good leadership needs (not only deserves) rewarding, whether financial or otherwise – it’s only human.

I have broken down some of my experiences and lessons from several collaborative projects where I have held a visionary and or leadership role.

To start with, the largest and most complex collaborative project I have been part of to date, The Fort Arts Hub (The Fort).  In 2008, my partner at the time (Pete Gorrie) and I started a very special arts project aimed at fostering creative projects, businesses and innovation through collaboration and exchange, on a large scale.  The concept was a one-stop-shop of creative services, a centre for developing and presenting art independently (no Govt. support/criteria) hosted within the beautiful Bell Bros. Building (1000m2) in Fortitude Valley.  By the end of 2011, around the time of it’s unfortunate demise (see attached statement at the end of the post). The Fort had several thriving creative spaces and businesses including an art gallery, music and art supply shop, artist studios, designer suites (graphic and fashion), a film and photography studio, a state-of-the-art recording studio, a community function and concert space and more.  How did we do it? You can be sure it wasn’t alone! Support The Fort

Pete and I developed our vision, measured its viability (best we could), then sought about engaging others keen to share in and contribute to manifesting it (through leasing and sub-leasing spaces, joining our NPO, partnerships and sponsorships).  My ambitious, perhaps slightly naive notion in the beginning was that the two of us (and our growing team) would develop the concept and systems for implementation then hand it (the vision) over to a non-hierarchical, ever growing body of equally excited individuals who would all do their part to realise the collective vision and their own, and we would all live happily ever after in a free-thinking, democratic and financially viable creative heaven.  For the most part it worked (believe it or not) but what I did learn is that big creative, community and collaborative visions like The Fort need visionary leaders to hold focus through the creative process, and inspire and motivate collaborators to pursue the vision.  Perhaps I was so caught up in creating a completely new blueprint for collaboration I convinced myself that management or anything slightly hierarchical was unnecessary for this project.  Profit-share is a viable and wonderful business concept but I do see the importance (for the vision) of people being paid and appreciated fairly for their work (what is fair? That’s another blog, but on a side note, over the years I have noted a recurrent theme with creative collaborations, in Brisbane at least, that nobody gets paid until everybody does).

In retrospect, if I had built greater self-interest into my vision for The Fort I might have made a better leader, instead of becoming a somewhat overworked and underpaid benevolent dictator out of necessity.  I didn’t want to be the “boss” (especially when some people didn’t think I should) of such a huge collaborative project (not without pay) besides at the time I thought it was important that everyone felt equally integral to maintaining The Fort vision.  Plus I had my own creative business to develop and I knew there was very little money to throw at this role with no time to properly develop it. I now realise I also didn’t value myself properly – the things we learn! Everyone was very busy with their own massive contribution – running creative businesses and collaborating amongst each other – and it became clear The Fort vision and its ambitious objectives could not be safely managed by the group mind, at least at first, and though roles were democratically delegated (and everyone was amazing) without a designated leader decisions took too long and I personally felt the vision for the long-term (5-10 years) project could have got distorted.  So I stepped up and really started learn how to collaborate and engage in this environment.  I worked harder to understand team members’, volunteers’, supporters’ and clients’ needs and interests, and together we achieved something truly astonishing.  As the project grew so too did my understanding of the importance of good leadership and its role in collaborative projects.  The deep end is where we really learn to swim.

I may not have earned much money as a visionary of The Fort but the experience and respect I gained over those 3 years co-delivering the project will remain invaluable for the rest of my life. Hundreds of successful creative projects came out The Fort, and that still gives me joy.  In this way it was a great success.

Since The Fort I have continued to coordinate and collaborate on many creative projects as a freelance PR consultant, and as a singer and manager of soul outfit Bankrupt Billionaires.

Bankrupt Billionaires formed before The Fort and we’re still going and growing.  At the core there are three of us who write the music and we collaborate with many other musicians and producers on recordings and as a 7-peice live outfit.  Interestingly, with this project I have again adopted an unpaid leadership role as “Manager” (though I have suggested payment many times) because of my passion and vision – or maybe it’s my drive and stubbornness – but now I set limits and better value my personal interests, and since The Fort, I believe I am much better at helping engage a collaborative effort. So now we’re getting somewhere! I have learned that leadership doesn’t mean you should do more than everyone else. In fact, in a collaborative environment, as a leader, inspiring passion and drive in others, and understanding and supporting other people’s needs and interests is key to securing successful outcomes.  Everyone’s input should be valued and considered.  Some suggestions for visionary leaders:

1. Inspire others with your passion. True passion is contagious.

2. Listen closely to others and develop a culture of sharing – particularly ideas and expectations.

3. Remember (visionaries) it was your idea – don’t expect others to share the workload straight away, especially without pay – but you can try! If your idea is good, and you are open to ideas for manifesting it collaboratively, help (and money) will come!

4. People have reasons for wanting to work with you.  Don’t be too proud. Find out what people get from supporting your vision, and nurture and honour that.

5. Stay true to yourself and your vision but believe in other people.  There are a lot of amazing people out there.  Exchange through collaboration could turn your great idea into something mind-blowing.

People love helping.  It’s what we do.  When people feel a part of something special, amazing things happen.

BB Collaboration Choir

Spontaneous collaboration.  We (that’s me front and centre) rounded up 20+ singers at a festival recently and

recorded impromptu choir vocals for our upcoming album.  The love was flowing.

The last collaborative project I’m going to discuss is BRIS BEST FEST, a community event that featured live music and art, an art exhibition and food and market stalls, held in a car park and adjoining building in West End, in July this year. The idea came about after I was approached by a young artist to help him get permission to paint a privately owned wall.  Around this time I was organising a group exhibition elsewhere.  At a meeting with the building owners it struck me – all these world-class Brisbane artists wanted to paint a huge collaborative mural on a building owned by community-minded property developers (ARIA), the wall is attached to an art gallery with a cool owner, there’s a huge car park big enough for a stage and stalls, I know lots of people… And so it was. Once we convinced ARIA to provide the space, myself, David Don (the young artist) and James Thompson (gallery owner) got to work organising our mini-festival featuring the best Brisbane talent we know, with 6 weeks to organise and less than $600 budget (all our monies pooled together).  Collaboratively we raised nearly $2000 for homeless youth (would have been more without rain), artists were paid, and everyone, volunteers and guest alike, had an amazing time.  Over the years I have realised that people love to support and get involved in good things – such as events that are socially responsible, fun and well organised.  Most people don’t have time to develop community projects but there are so many people in Brisbane with big hearts that are eager to get involved and support – they just need leaders with strong visions (refer point 1.).  My role in this huge collaborative effort was to help organise and oversee the event, incite passion and support, and make sure every single person involved (over 50 volunteers and artists) felt valued and supported.  The festival would have suffered without even one of these people, yet many of the lovely volunteers expressed overflowing gratitude to me for the opportunity, I could have cried, and I did.


Admittedly I can be quite precious with my creative visions (which nearly always use collaboration) but I have learned to balance this with other peoples’ needs and I consider this (doing it my way) in the self-interest equation.  The passion I have for rolling out the projects I have envisioned has always overridden the need for great financial recompense, as I am often hugely satisfied in other ways – experience, self-worth, relationships.  Next step is finding new ways to make all these fantastic ideas and collaborations more and more financially viable, for myself and my fellow collaborators.  Surely money couldn’t hurt the collaborative experience, could it?

Kel Timmons is a freelance PR consultant behind the Hear the Art company, and a singer and manager of soul outfit Bankrupt Billionaires.


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6 replies »

  1. Nice work Kel. I especially like how you involved the reader in your experiences, authenticating and making the teachings easier to assimilate. You found that mysterious balance between ‘lessons’ and ‘reflections’. Big love

  2. Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Cheers

  3. We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a new
    scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with helpful info to work on.
    You’ve done a formidable activity and our whole group will probably be thankful to you.

  4. Aw, this was an extremely good post. Taking a few minutes
    and actual effort to generate a superb article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and
    never manage to get anything done.

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