5 Key Leadership Practices To Build A Movement

How can we enable a community to move from being a disorganization to becoming an organization? Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz says:

Organizing people to build the power to make change is based on mastery of five key leadership practices. These five practices can change individuals, how their groups operate, and how the world looks, feels, and is.


1. Creating Shared Story

Organizing is rooted in shared values expressed as public narrative. Public narrative is how we communicate our values through stories, bringing alive the motivation that is a necessary pre-condition for changing the world.

Through public narrative, we tell the story of why we are called to leadership (“story of self”), the values of the community within which we are embedded that calls us as a collective to leadership (“story of us”), and the challenges to those values that demand present action (“story of now”).

Values-based organizing–in contrast to issue-based organizing–invites people to escape their “issue silos” and come together so that their diversity becomes an asset, rather than an obstacle. And because values are experienced emotionally, people can access the moral resources—the courage, hope, and solidarity—that it takes to risk learning new things and explore new ways of doing things.

By learning how to tell a public narrative that bridges the self, us, and now, organizers enhance their own efficacy and create trust and solidarity within their campaign, equipping them to engage others far more effectively.

2. Creating Shared Relational Commitment

Organizing is based on relationships and creating mutual commitments to work together. It is the process of association—not simply aggregation—that makes a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Through association we can learn to recast our individual interests as common interests,

allowing us to envision objectives that we can use our combined resources to achieve. And because it makes us more likely to act to assert those interests, relationship building goes far beyond delivering a message, extracting a contribution, or soliciting a vote. Relationships built as a result of one-on-one meetings and small group meetings create the foundation of local campaign teams, and they are rooted in commitments people make to each other, not simply commitment to an idea, task, or issue.

3. Creating Shared Structure

A team leadership structure leads to effective local organizing that integrates local action with state- wide, nation-wide and even global purpose. Volunteer efforts often flounder due to a failure to develop reliable, consistent, and creative individual local leaders. Structured leadership teams encourage stability, motivation, creativity, and accountability–and use volunteer time, skills, and effort effectively. They create the structure within which energized volunteers can accomplish challenging work.

Teams strive to achieve three criteria of effectiveness–meeting the standards of those they serve, learning how to be more effective at meeting outcomes over time, and enhancing the learning and growth of individuals on the team. Team members work to put in place five conditions that will lead to effectiveness–real team (bounded, stable and interdependent), engaging direction (clear, consequential and challenging), enabling structure (work that is interdependent), clear group norms, and a diverse team with the skills and talents needed to do the work.

4. Creating Shared Strategy

Although based on broad values, effective organizing campaigns learn to focus on a clear strategic objective, a way to turn those values into action and to unleash creative deliberation (e.g., elect a President; desegregate buses in Montgomery, Alabama; get to 100% clean electricity; etc.). State-wide campaigns locate responsibility for state-wide strategy at the top (or at the center), but are able to “chunk out” strategic objectives in time (deadlines) and space (local areas) as a campaign, allowing significant local responsibility for figuring out how to achieve those objectives.

Responsibility for strategizing local objectives empowers, motivates, and invests local teams. This dual structure allows the movement as a whole to be relentlessly well oriented and fosters the personal motivation of volunteers to be fully engaged.

5. Creating Shared Measurable Action

Organizing outcomes must be clear, measurable, and specific if progress is to be evaluated, accountability practiced, and strategy adapted based on experience. Such measures include volunteers recruited, money raised, people at a meeting, voters contacted, pledge cards signed, laws passed, etc.

Although electoral campaigns enjoy the advantage of very clear outcome measures, any effective organizing drive must come up with the equivalent. Regular reporting of progress to goal creates opportunity for feedback, learning, and adaptation. Training is provided for all skills (e.g., holding house meetings, phone banking, etc.) to carry out the program. New media may help enable reporting, feedback, coordination. Transparency exists as to how individuals, groups, and the campaign as a whole are doing with regard to their progress toward their goal.

Learning Organizing

Organizing is a practice–a way of doing things. It’s like learning to ride a bike. No matter how many books you read about bike riding, they are of little use when it comes to getting on the bike. And when you get on the first thing that will happen is that you will fall. And that’s where the “heart” comes in. Either you give up and go home or you find the courage to get back on, knowing you will fall, because that’s the only way to learn to keep your balance.

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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