Over the last two years, social movements, organizations and leaders around the world have been thrust into a period of tumult, transition and uncertainty. These moments of crisis in our personal lives and in society can force sudden changes in our capacity to respond. What happens when we are not able to offer leadership like we used to? Or inversely, what happens when we do have the energy and capacity to respond, but our efforts don’t yield the results that are expected? Responsibility is the essence of leadership, and millions of community leaders who are working hard to resolve difficult, structural problems are uncomfortable when they feel like they need to respond to the moment, but are unable to. This can lead to burnout, or worse: leaders leaving the movement altogether, creating vacuums of leadership that don’t honor the cycles of our own development.
Let’s be clear. A title does not make you a leader. Look at Capitol Hill. Leadership begins in your home. You are the executive, manager, administrator, foot soldier, all wrapped up in one. No President of the United States is responsible for a booming economy. The people are. People make businesses, employ people, produce products and services, and in turn support communities. This ripple effectuates the nation. The President is the ambassador of the nation, and is the moral and ethical leader therein. The true change makers are the boots on the ground that makes the nation work.
We have defined collective leadership as a group of people working together toward a shared goal.1 When collective leadership is happening, people are internally and externally motivated—working together toward a shared vision within a group and using their unique talents and skills to contribute to the success. In fact, collective leadership recognizes that lasting success is not possible without diverse perspectives and contributions. Collective leadership is a process. It is dependent on the relationships among the parts in the system, whether that system is two people working together; a classroom, team, board, or organization; or a system initiative. In collective leadership, the way the group works together makes it different from a more traditional model of leadership.
By Barbara Ransby in Color Lines - Who gets to tell the story? This is a question implicit in the work I do as a historian. But the question I have been wrestling with lately is more immediate: Who gets to shape the narrative, define the history-makers, and capture the words and images of the current black-led, anti-state violence movement evolving in the United States right now? Even the act of naming a movement like this has its power. Last month The New York Times Magazine bestowed part of the defining privilege on a young former sports writer, Jay Caspian Kang. Kang reduced the growing movement to the personal story lines of two young, earnest and committed social media activists, DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta "Netta" Elzie. While their work has made a critical contribution, Kang frames that work in a way that misrepresents the larger movement.
Al Sharpton and Oprah Winfrey are scared witless that the Black Lives Matter mobilization will become a sustained, independent political movement – one that challenges both the rich white rulers and their junior partners in the Black Misleadership Class. The viciousness of Winfrey’s and Sharpton’s assaults on the new crop of organizers is a good barometer of the nascent movement’s effectiveness, to date, in discomforting the comfortable. If one thing is clear to African American youth, it is that so-called Black leadership has been complicit in the catastrophe that has engulfed their communities – that the “leaders” are part of the problem, not the solution. Therefore, although the movement-in-the-making is not yet large and coherent enough to shake the foundations of the State or cause Wall Street to shudder, it has already created a crisis of legitimacy for the Black Misleadership Class.
Although many of the young activists may not have been aware that they were crossing a kind of Rubicon, the threat that “Ferguson” represented to the post-Sixties order was immediately evident to the Black misleaders that have colluded with the mass incarceration regime for the past two generations. It soon became obvious that the Al Sharptons of the community were attempting to isolate the core Ferguson activists and prevent the coalescing of a youth-led national Black movement – especially one that might act in concert with non-Blacks in the remnants of the anti-war and Occupy movements.
Think you know what a leader looks like? Meet nine women and one male ally from World Pulse’s global network who are transforming their communities—and challenging traditional images of leadership along the way. When we reached out to World Pulse community member Susan K.A. to thank her for her leadership as a World Pulse Welcomer and to ask her if she’d like to participate in this article, she was surprised. She had never before thought of herself as a leader, a word she’d seen divide people rather than bring them together. But her actions, along with the other nine women and men you will read about here, model loving and compassionate leadership.