What Is Leadership In The Context Of Building Social Movements?

According to Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz,

Leadership is taking responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty.

Let’s break that down into four parts.

  1. Taking responsibility: leaders don’t wait for a title or permission. They understand their agency and take action.
  2. For enabling others: leadership isn’t about illuminating the world with your brilliance; rather it’s about empowering your team to achieve their full potential.
  3. To achieve shared purpose: Martin Luther King Jr. says, “power is the ability to achieve purpose.” One person with purpose is powerful, but one hundred thousand people with shared purpose has shaken the world.
  4. Under conditions of uncertainty: leaders empower their crew to achieve shared purpose in the middle of a storm.

Ganz goes on to discuss four models of leadership:

The strength of a movement grows out of its commitment to develop leadership. Sometimes we think leadership is about being the person that everyone goes to:


How does it feel to be the dot in the middle of all those arrows? How does it feel to be one of the arrows that can’t even get through? And what happens if the “dot” in the middle should disappear?

Sometimes we think we don’t need leadership at all because “we’re all leaders,” but that looks like this:


Who’s responsible for coordinating everyone? And who’s responsible for focusing on the good of the whole, not just one particular part? With whom does the “buck stop”?

Sometimes we think leadership is about exercising our authority “over” our subordinates:


How does it feel to be the dot at the bottom of the hierarchy? At the top? Without giving people autonomy and ownership over their work, it’s difficult to awaken their inner motivation to execute creatively and effectively.

Another way to practice leadership is like this “snowflake”: developing other leaders who, in turn, develop other leaders, all the way “down.” Although you may be the “dot” in the middle, your success depends on developing the leadership of others.


The excerpts above come from a workshop guide developed by Professor Ganz and many of the fellows and colleagues who have worked with him. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION & SHARE: Who are the people you feel called to mobilize to build a better world together? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below. And if you find this helpful or valuable, please share on your social media. 

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