Reflection on Movement Leadership


Most of the time, we talk here about the leadership of organizations related to age, race, gender, style, outcomes, and social change. We think about leadership pipelines and transitions, and what structures help people lead with the most impact. But in the midst of the funeral for Michael Brown in Ferguson and the Staten Island rally over the death of Eric Garner, leadership takes on a different meaning.

In these cases, we’re not thinking about organizational leaders, but about movement leadership; how everyday people take action together in ways that they might not have before. There are organizing groups that train resident leaders and neighborhood organizations that give local leaders a voice. When these permanent institutions combine with an issue that creates the feeling – the need – for people not usually in leadership roles to move and act, that is movement building leadership. We saw that in the Dreamers, and we see it in the many people trying to do something in relation to these latest deaths, and the many others that preceded them. People just want to do something, to figure something out, to make a change, to put a stop to the senseless killing of so many young black men.

We often wonder in our nonprofit field how to make leadership positions more doable, to promote more leaders of color, to teach people about transformational leadership. And we need all of these things, but we also must remember to tap, stay in touch with, and honor the leadership of those who are just moved to act: because they have had enough, because they care, because they just want to be a part of making something happen.

When we combine this energy with our institutional leadership training, there’s no telling how far we can go.

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