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Choosing Leaders is like Choosing What to Eat: Fruit or a Twinkie?

Good leaders are as important for a healthy organization as good food is for a healthy body. Would you trust the Twinkie King to be a leader for your group?

Good leaders are as important for a healthy organization as good food is for a healthy body. Would you trust the Twinkie King to be a leader for your group?

I’ve been writing about the need to be careful in choosing who to develop as a leader.

Grassroots leaders are what nourish your organization. Just like you need to eat food that will keep you healthy, you need to recruit and develop leaders that will keep your organization healthy.

This can be tough. It’s often easier to eat a Twinkie than to eat a carrot. Choose the leaders that will nourish your organization. You’ll be healthier for it.

Not a leader doesn’t mean not valuable

I recently blogged on the topic that not everyone is cut out to be a leader.

Just to be clear, just because someone isn’t a leader does not mean they are not valuable.

That volunteer who comes in every week for data entry, she may not be a leader, but she sure is valuable.

That reliable phone banker who will come in and call through a list of names for an action alert? He may not be a leader, but he sure is valuable.

In fact, some of your leaders may be train wrecks when it comes to data entry. You might not want to let them come close to your computers.

Building a movement or an organization takes a variety of skills and people. Value them all.

Not everyone is leadership material

Not everyone can be a leader. If you choose the wrong people to be grassroots leaders, you may find they have no followers.

Not everyone can be a leader. If you choose the wrong people to be grassroots leaders, you may find they have no followers.

This post might get me in a bit of trouble.

You see, the progressive movement puts a lot of stock on the idea of grassroots leadership. To quote a line from Wobbly history as told by Utah Phillips, “We’re all leaders here.”

Except it just isn’t true.

Not everyone wants to be a leader, and not everyone who wants to be leader is cut out to be a leader.

Your job as an organizer is to build up leaders. It is to recruit, train, and nurture people who will be able to inspire and lead others in the community.

And not everyone is up for the job.

Just so you know I’m not just saying this to vent, in Tools for Radical Democracy, Minieri and Getsos write:

Although people might be doing important work, thye may or may not be leaders. For example, if a member who comes to every meeting is great at motivational speaking but cannot effectively engage with other members to make decisions, it may not be appropriate to develop her as a leader or place her in leadership situations. [Emphasis added.]

Leaders are important. Grassroots leadership is important. It is important enough to be thoughtful and intentional about. Carefully recruit leaders. Actively develop leaders. And yes, sometimes you will have to, very sensitively, deal with someone who is not cut out to be a leader.

Stories of Transformation: The Individual

I’m pushing transformation hard right now for two reasons.

First, it’s why we’re here. If we’re not going to be serious about work for social transformation, we might as well go home.

Second, transformation is possible. Here’s one example of individual transformation and helping someone grow from inactive to being an amazing organizer.

Every fall at the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) we organize a delegation to the School of the Americas Watch rally and vigil in Ft. Benning, GA.

Three years ago Jennifer Mills was a first-year student at the University of Michigan. She had planned on going down to Georgia on the bus organized by the Adrian Dominican Sisters, but her test schedule didn’t allow that.

So she road with us.

I’ll be honest, we didn’t give her the most comfortable of trips; especially after other folks locked her out of the room we had booked for her.

Maybe it was because of her experience sleeping in the car that the next year she came to me and said, “we should bring our own bus.”

I was skeptical; busses are expensive. But I supported Jennifer, and I’m glad she did.

She worked hard to fill the bus. She created a partnership with the UAW to fill the seats. She found campus funding to help cover costs.

Thanks to her, for the last two years we’ve taken a bus to Ft. Benning.

Before she came down on that first trip, Jennifer was not an activist. Today, Jennifer is on the ICPJ Board, she’s received a peacemakers award from Pax Christi of Michigan, and she’s looking to follow Dr. Paul Farmer’s example of ensuring that the world’s poorest have access to quality healthcare.

Now ICPJ can’t take credit for all the hard work Jennifer has done, but by giving her a structure and support to grow as an activist ICPJ has been part of her personal growth and transformation as an activist.

Transformation is possible, and Jennifer is an excellent example of it.