query: leaders to organizers

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Fri Sep 26 14:31:49 CDT 2003

[ed:  Lisa and John continue the conversation.]

From: "Lisa J. Marshall" <lisa at smartworkco.com>

I recommend Wilford Drath's Deep Blue Sea: Rethinking the 
Sources of Leadership  as one that offers three distinct models of 
leadership, each appropriate it in given time and place, that would 
usefully inform this conversation.  At the end of the day, I think the 
answer here is "it depends."  It depends on how you're defining 
leadership (if organizers don't have followers, how can they 
organize?) and it depends on the levels of leadership maturity 
available in the situation.  

"Preparing for the Best"
The Smart Work Company
1365 Hamilton Street NW
Washington, DC 20011
202 829-0795 f: 202 829-5324
lisa at smartworkco.com


From: "JOHN M. BEAM" <beam at fordham.edu>

Some additional pebbles for the stone soup:

I think a more useful way to think about these issues is that there 
are, broadly and imprecisely speaking, organizing functions and 
leadership functions.  How these are dived up is a function of 
organizing model (where relevant), various contexts, and money.  
I'm not convinced that the goal of organizers is to transfer all their 
skills to the leaders.  Division of labor can be ok.  Low income 
leaders are the only type of leader in public affairs who are 
attacked for having access to expertise that would just come with 
the job if they were CEOs or politicians or union officials.  

Re/ money:  It is interesting that no one responded to Shannah's 
on-target point that the majority of grass roots organizations may 
start out as unfunded, "volunteer" driven activity in which the folks 
who are taking responsibility for the activity and  mobilizing their 
community hustle/luck into/negotiate one or more staff lines to 
minimize a portion of the sacrifice they have been donating to their 
cause.   Does that make them paid leaders?  So, what? Isn't that 
the model for more middle class organizations ranging from 

Re/ organizers not being leaders because they don't have a 
following:  Models notwithstanding, in many organizations, it is the 
organizers who have the most contact with the constituency 
through door knocking, flyering, phoning, etc.  They frequently 
know more of and more about the constituency than the leader 
representing the organization's position at the press conference.  
Of course they have a following.  Ask any organizer who has had to 
take over a group someone else organized.  

Moreover, a commonly accepted definition of an organizer is that 
of the person who makes things happen and keeps the plan on 
track.  Most frequently, this might be on the tactical level.  Who 
steps off the curb when the leaders freeze up and the other two 
hundred people are ready to be in the street?  Who points out, in a 
diplomatic organizerly fashion, that the strategy the leadership is 
pushing might be construed as racist by other groups in the 

In the abstract, being a leader implies a range of functions.  In the 
concrete, the primary function of leaders in many organizations 
seems to be spokesperson.  

How the various functions that build and defend an organization 
and mobilize a constituency are shared within a group seems most 
subject to critique, if not criticism, when an organization claims by 
mission or model to be about supporting and "developing" 
(whatever that means) indigenous leadership.  Even then, it seems 
to me that ultimately the proof is in whether they do that, not how.  

John Beam

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