subscribe: Posts | Comments


Comments Off on Leadership

Leadership is not good or bad, it is how you use it!

Community and labor organizing models place a high value on leadership and leadership development. They know that leaders are critical for moving people into action. At the same time there are many movements that unfortunately know that to be public as a leader can mean death. Some grassroots direct action movements– horizontal movements – say we are all leaders.

Leadership is the ability to inspire, motivate, energize, engage and move people into action, to move people to accessing their own power to make a change. Leaders can do this because they are respected. To be respected you must be respectful. Leaders serve as a source of inspiration, courage and clarity, they tend to have a vision of what could be, they tend to have strong character or personality, this may or may not be charismatic. Leaders tend to be disciplined; they do not abuse their power or authority. Leaders make the strategic decisions that will shape the conflict.

The Army uses the following definition: “Leadership is influencing people — by providing purpose, direction, and motivation — while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.”

The Army further goes on by defining “influence” as a: means of getting people to do what you want them to do. It is the means or method to achieve two ends: operating and improving. But there’s more to influencing than simply passing along orders. The example you set is just as important as the words you speak. And you set an example — good or bad — with every action you take and word you utter, on or off duty. Through your words and example, you must communicate purpose, direction, and motivation.

While there are many different types of leadership styles, most people agree to these basic types

  • Autocratic or Authoritarian
  • Benevolent Autocrat
  • Consultative Democratic
  • Participatory Democratic
  • Delegative or Free Reign

Each of these styles has their place or use. A good leader knows when to employ which approach in any given situation.


  1. SET THE (PERSONAL) EXAMPLE – Where leaders demonstrate honesty, hard work, courage and respect for others and show that they are willing to make personal sacrifices for the cause, those same characteristics will be evident among followers. Systematic corruption cannot be avoided when leaders are corrupt.
  2. KNOW THE PEOPLE YOU EXPECT TO LEAD – An effective leader must demonstrate care and concern for those he/she is expected to lead. Leaders must create a climate of trust and show a willingness to listen. Community level leaders should make an effort to personally know their supporters, as well as “fence sitters”, and make genuine effort to demonstrate concern for them.
  3. BE PROFICIENT IN CARRYING OUT RESPONSIBILITIES – Leaders are expected to articulate clearly why the struggle must be undertaken, to inspire the Resistance – symbol instead of visible leadership.
  4. SEEK AND ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY – Conflict environments are characterized by uncertainty, misjudgments, and mistakes. Effective leaders step forward with confidence and fill leadership voids that will appear when a movement experiences a setback. They also accept responsibility for failure if the movement does not achieve its objectives.
  5. GIVE OTHERS CREDIT FOR SUCCESS – Good leaders usually do not use the word “I” when discussing a successful event. It was “we” who succeeded. Thus, good leaders show people that they are in the very heart of the things and that their individual participation is what really makes a difference to the success of the struggle. They acknowledge and show appreciation for the participation and contributions of others.
  6. LEARN FROM (your and others’) EXPERIENCE – The most expensive way to learn is from your own mistakes. Thus, effective leaders learn from their and others’ mistakes and successes.
  7. DELEGATE AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY – A good leader never assumes that he/she is the only intelligent person in the movement. Successful leaders know how to challenge and maximize the abilities of subordinates. The right people should be selected for the right positions, and responsibilities for more strategic activities should extend down through the movement leadership, together with a process for delegating responsibility to subordinates. Even the best leaders in history had a 24-hour per day limitation, and their movements would have collapsed if they had tried to do all of the activities themselves. Over-centralization of decision-making is a fatal flaw in any organization!

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT – Qualities to look for in a leader

  • Team Work
  • Is accessible
  • Talks to and listens to others
  • Is accountable
  • Respects peoples time
  • Pays attention to undercurrents
  • Talks Directly to Issues
  • Stops reading tealeaves
  • Stops speculation
  • Seeks direct answers
  • Takes Initiative
  • But not all the space
  • Starts things but delegates
  • Can remain unattached to own vision
  • Collaborates
  • Communicates with confidence about decisions and can explain what was decided and why
  • Can step aside and let others lead
  • Has integrity

Exercise – Brainstorm answers to these questions

What are the qualities we look for in a leader?

  • Think critically in difficult times
  • Willing to work and get involved
  • Has goals for themselves, for the industry and what we want
  • Believes in change and social justice
  • Ability to push co-workers
  • Punctual
  • Hard worker – good worker
  • Unselfish
  • Not afraid
  • Move negative person to positive – persuasive
  • Shows good judgment
  • Be able to lead meetings in own workplace
  • Respected at workplace
  • Trainer
  • Responsible/dependable
  • Be able to solve problems
  • Thinks of co-workers – cares about them
  • Honest
  • Trustworthy
  • Mutual respect with supervisors
  • Persistent
  • Positive person – not a quitter
  • Listens
  • Senior person – understands how company worker
  • Representative of workforce and work
  • Can communicate with others – relay a message
  • Can and willing to learn
  • Can give and accept criticism

*Qualities in bold were listed as the most important

What is the Role of a Leader?

  • Listen — identify issues and mobilize around them
  • Move people to take action
  • Have followers
  • Communicate issues in workplace that affect workers
  • Bring vision to co-workers
  • Must have knowledge of labor movement
  • Educate on issues, union, and what co-workers can do
  • Be eyes and ears of union in workplace
  • Help interpret to co-workers what boss is doing
  • Delegate responsibilities
  • Recruit more leaders and get people involved
  • Lead by example
  • Confront boss
  • Represent union in public – spokesperson
  • Give/contribute ideas
  • Attend actions and meetings
  • Be a bridge to co-workers
  • Know workplace
  • Assess co-workers

How do we develop leaders?

  • Motivate
  • Commit
  • Make a plan – assignments
  • Support implementation
  • Follow up and evaluate

What helps us to develop leaders?

  • Listen to potential leaders and ask questions ‘
  • Talk directly about commitment and being a leader
  • Give assignments with detail
  • Get worker to make a commitment to the assignments
  • Congratulate leaders for completed assignments
>>Go to next section: Getting People Involved