Good leaders are the key to community organizing. They do not tell other people what to do, but help others to take charge. They do not grab center stage, but nudge others into the limelight. They are not interested in being The Leader, but in trying to create more leaders. They recognize that only by creating more leaders can an organizing effort expand. For more on leaders see IAF organizing.
Lead by creating an example to follow
Some leaders are larger-than-life heroes. Some deliver inspirational speeches. Others are excellent organizers. But many leaders inspire others to follow by setting an example. When Rosa Parks refused to give up a bus seat reserved for white people, others followed her example in such numbers that it blossomed into the civil rights movement.
Divide-up and delegate work
Divide tasks into bite-sized chunks, then discuss who will do each chunk. Make sure everyone has the ability to carry out their task, then let them carry it out in their own way. Have someone check on progress. People do not feel good about doing a job if nobody cares whether it gets done.
Appreciate all contributions, no matter how small
Recognize people's efforts in conversations, at meetings, in newsletters, and with tokens of appreciation: thank-you notes, certificates, and awards for special efforts.
Accepting criticism may be difficult for some leaders, but members need to feel they can be critical without being attacked.
Help people to believe in themselves
A leader builds people's confidence that they can accomplish what they have never accomplished before. The unflagging optimism of a good leader energizes everyone.
People will not follow those they do not trust. Always maintain the highest standards of honesty. Good leaders reveal their potential conflicts of interest and air doubts about their own personal limitations.
Herald a higher purpose
People often volunteer because they wish to serve some higher purpose. A leader should be able to articulate this purpose, to hold it up as a glowing beacon whenever the occasion demands. A good leader will celebrate every grassroots victory as an example of what can happen when people work together for a common good.
Heralding a higher purpose may require some practice at heralding. Recognized leaders are usually good at public speaking. In Canada, a surprising number of activist leaders belong to Toastmasters.
Avoid doing most of the work
Don't try to run the whole show or do most of the work. Others will become less involved. And you will burn out.
The Citizen's Handbook / Home / About / Table of Contents
The Citizen's Handbook / Charles Dobson / citizenshandbook.org
The Troublemaker's Teaparty is a print version of The Citizen's Handbook published in 2003. It contains all of The Handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots rot, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from bookstores, Amazon or New Society Publishers.