query: leaders to organizers
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu Sep 25 19:42:55 CDT 2003
[ed: I am very pleased to see so many people participating in this
discussion. This message includes contributions from Larry,
Katherine, John, Holly, and Moshe].
From: LJHalliday at webtv.net (Larry Halliday)
Before we get into models, I'd like to comment that I tend to think
that leaders can be good organizers, but organizers can't be good
leaders. As mentioned, if we examine the responsibilities of each I
believe it becomes apparent. Foremost, leaders have a following,
organizers do not. The differences also seem to become more
recognizable dependent on the growing size of the organization. It
might serve well here to also distinguish between "organizers" and
Some years ago, Shel Trapp commented upon his getting to know
Gale Cincotta that he was amazed how good an organizer she was,
as well as a leader. I would say that the leader/organizer is a rare
From: Katherine Turner <kturner12 at rogers.com>
After monitoring this discussion for a bit, I'm beginning to wonder if
our insistence on the clear division between leading and organizing
is not a bit patriarchal.
Some models of leadership actually exhibit characteristics that are
very similar to organizing.
On a personal level, I'd much rather organize than lead but both
roles are essential and the mix of personalities and skill sets within
the context often impacts of where I end up.
From: John Gaudette <johng59 at earthlink.net>
A couple points in regarding leaders to organizers:
-my father, Tom Gaudette, was a leader in his neighborhood
organization before he was hired by Alinsky as an organizer. As he
would say "there is no model in community organizing."
-My experience in hiring leaders as community organizers has
been a mixed bag. It failed when I judged a leaders success
without the proper tools. Good leaders are good leaders because
they have certain skills and attributes. These are very different
than the skills of an organizer. i know this is obvious, but look at
the leaders experience as a starting point for the analysis of a
potential organizer, not as the final determination of their ability.
From: Hickson holly <andivy2 at yahoo.com>
I come from some modest experience with faith-based
organizations and find that any one of a number of models CAN
work. Whether a particular model WILL work is, as are most
things, based upon the clarity with which roles and expectations are
defined and communicated.
The powerful integration of congregations with organizing leads to
some fascinating dynamics as to the degree of horizontal and
vertical structure might play out. Clergy leaders and/or organizers
may come from a virtual paramilitary structure to a personality cult
(not meant in any perjorative way at all) It is important that the
leaders, organizers, and the faithful massesbe clear aabout the
power structure and the agendas, both overt and covert. I have
watch a local group nearly crumble under the weight of preserving
a cumbersome structure where flexibility and a little inclusiveness
might have yielded a greater sphere of influence rather than the
loss of control feared by talented leaders who were not prepared or
supported to be organizers.
From: Rabbi Moshe ben Asher & Magidah Khulda bat Sarah
<kharakim at jps.net>
Randy raises the question of . . . whether there are certain
conditions under which different models [relative to the roles of
organizers and leaders] work or dont work.
Seemingly there are at least three important variables: the (1)
tradition of the organizational-institutional setting and, within that
tradition, (2) the degree of structural and cultural support for role
definitions, and (3) mechanisms and processes of leadership
Most of us have experience in organizational-institutional settings
that have sufficient longevity to have become reified to some
extent, such as labor unions, thus providing (ideally) well-
developed structure and culture to ensure clear boundaries and
limits on the powers vested in leadership roles, and means to hold
accountable those who occupy those roles. Notwithstanding the
theoretical and practical imperfections with which were all familiar,
the probability is that an integration of leader and organizer roles is
likely to work more successfully in such settings.
Ad hoc organizations, such as neighborhood action groups--lacking
well-developed structure and culture to define the roles of leaders
and organizers, without personal and organizational experience
and confidence of holding leaders and organizers accountable, and
less sensitive to the powers that can be subsumed by those
occupying the roles--are much more susceptible to manipulation
and outright rip-offs by individuals in leader-organizer roles.
Part of what makes this whole topic fascinating is that, unlike any
other profession, the educative mission of organizers is to transfer
virtually all of their knowledge and skills to leaders. Unlike doctors,
lawyers, accountants, etc., for the most part we are not employed
to produce instrumental outcomes or wins per se, but to mentor
leaders so that they have the capacity to produce such outcomes.
In the final analysis, when the organizer succeeds in this regard,
the substantive differences between the knowledge and skills of
veteran leaders and organizers is minuscule.
Its worth noting that most grassroots organizers have an abiding
belief in the necessity for a sharp, inflexible line to be drawn
between organizers and leaders, which, while taken as an article of
faith, runs counter to the historical tide of successful movements
(led by leader-organizers)not just the labor movement.
The grassroots commitment to keep leader and organizer roles
entirely separate, reflecting our justified preoccupation with
nurturing, serving, and protecting indigenous leadership, often has
the unfortunate and unwitting effect of overlooking both the
necessity and opportunities for staff leadership. Its one of the more
problematic ideas put into practice by people doing the work, that
organizers arent to take active leadership roles. While definitions
of the organizers role can be cut differently for the various times
and places of our work, few professionals in the field regard STAFF
LEADERSHIP of members as necessary or appropriate. If we listen
carefully we can hear ourselves saying that organizers help
members learn--for instance, the necessity and processes for
planning and reviewing actions--but that somehow were to do this
by organizing them, without exercising leadership. Its impossible,
of course. If we succeed, its by leadership--by speaking first (either
with questions, alternatives, or statements), acting first, and being
followed. By denying to ourselves full awareness of our roles, not
acknowledging that we take the lead at specific times under
selected circumstances, we contradict the shared realities and
practicalities of members. Moreover, we fail to be accountable and
give them directly what theyve paid for and expect, and we end up
manipulating people and situations to exert influence.
Even so, Ive seen the well intended but misguided staff leadership
prohibition--organizers should never lead--produce destructive
results. In one case, members of a neighborhood organization
failed to take action, even though people felt deeply about a local
issue, had worked out a simple and effective strategy to deal with
it, and were ready individually to do the jobs that needed to be
done. All that was lacking was an organizer to speak up and
suggest forming an action committee and then to pass around a
sign-up sheet. While the example is extreme, not like ordinary
behavior by competent organizers, its factual and aptly illustrates
the absurd lengths to which misinformation and inexperience can
push organizers misunderstandings about staff leadership.
In fact, apart from staff leadership its not practicable to develop
members as leaders. In most community organizing, the first
precedes the second in the sequence of the organizing drive--the
drive simply doesnt happen without staff leadership.
The language we use to describe their positions creates much of
the confusion regarding leader and staff roles. In effect, we know
there are structural differences in member-leader and staff
positions in the organization, that is, there are formal divisions of
authority and responsibility. But in the matter of roles, we should
agree that organizers must communicate virtually all they know to
member-leaders, and much of the time organizers should take the
lead themselves, at least to initiate vision and process--which is not
the same as saying they should occupy formal leadership offices.
What are the limits or guidelines for organizer leadership in
grassroots organizing? My own teaching in this vein as a grassroots
organizer is as follows: All such leadership by organizers should be
conscious modeling to encourage others to take similar leads. It
should always be sensitive to the goals of building ownership,
knowledge, and skill among leaders and members. It should focus
first on process (i.e., builds rather than wins). It should never
usurp decision-making. It should never be the organizations public
voice. And it should never be embodied in formal office.
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