Need for a Targeted Leadership Model for Social Sector Activists

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When you have only a hammer every problem starts to look like a nail. We have generic leadership models but we need models targeted towards to specific environment we are working in. We need to develop a few different types of hammers that are optimized towards different jobs. You will not use a sledgehammer to hammer nails into a hardwood floor.

This article is an extension to "Activist (Active Citizen) Leader Responsibilities"

A leadership model that is generic might be "good enough" since it is going in roughly the same direction we need to go, but good enough might not be good enough. With limited resources and an asymmetrical relationship in power between the incumbent interests that maintain an injustice and the team that wants to right the wrong, the challenger team need to be as effective as possible with the resources it has. It can't afford to waste any resources.

In the diagram below we can see that using a model that is "good enough" (A. What is) is going in the general direction of what is needed in the specific situation but it is not in perfect alignment. The alignment problem creates waste. By creating better alignment between the leadership model and what is required the leader will be more effective and waste less resources (materiel and personnel).

Does effectiveness increase in a linear or exponential manner the better the alignment between what is needed and what is done? I have no proof, but my gut feel is that the improvement in effectiveness increases more exponentially than linearly.

Before we start developing the leadership model for the environment (market segment) we need to understand what success is in the social sector activist segment.

To create change, the organization needs to develop and then use social and political "power". Think about what you learned in physics, the concepts of potential and kinetic energy come to mind as good examples - you need potential energy before you can have kinetic.. Power is related to how the energy is used. The example is not exact, but close enough for you to get the concept.

Success depends on:

Creation of Potential Energy

The organization. What are the capabilities of the organization. How many people are involved and what is the skillset of those people. To the organization the leader is a role model that empowers them, by taking away their fears and giving them confidence, that helps them do more than they thought was possible.

The ecosystem. These are your partner organizations that have similar interests and are willing to help you. Before you can get the help of others you must have something to offer to them. You will need to prove that your team is worthy of their time and effort. The objective is to build social capital.

The public. Your goal needs to benefit the common good. If you are truly fighting an injustice it must be a common injustice and not just something that will benefit you. You need to win the support of the public at large. Political power is based on the amount of money (carrots) you can rally to "lobby" the government and the number of people (sticks) you can rally into action to ensure a change in government. The role of the leader is to promote a positive image of the goal and the organization in order to gain popular support.

Transformation of Potential Energy to Power

The opponent: Once alliances have been built and you have popular support you need to exert power on the target. This is where strategy comes into play. Before you can develop strategy you need to understand who your opponent / injustice is. What are their defensive and offensive capabilities. What are they willing to do to maintain the status quo. Developing the strategy is not a one person job. A good leader will involve stakeholders and experts. The leader does not need to be the smartest person on the team but must be one of the most courageous because it will be the leader that is on the front-line in full visibility and the primary target for attacks.

This graphic shows the top level responsibilities of the leader.

After we understand the responsibilities of the leader we can define the roles that need to be played in order to fulfill the responsibilities.

Most people talk about brilliant leadership in terms of the strategy used in the fight against the enemy but that is only one small part of the leadership process. As illustrated above, before you can use kinetic energy as power you need to build potential energy. How you fight the good fight depends on the arsenal of weapons and the soldiers that can use those weapons.

Before you go to war you need to build an air force, time-consuming and expensive. While the air force can do a lot of damage to the enemy, but you always need boots on the ground to win and hold the land. How many airplanes do you build and how many troops do you recruit and train.

A forgotten question: How much diplomacy do you do?

Updated 15th-March-2015 at 02:43 AM by Željko Zidarić

Željko Zidarić