We have been discussing the social setting within which organizing happens: who are the actors, what are their interests, their resources, and their power to act on their interests. In some cases, people gain "power to" get resources they need by developing greater interdependence around common interests and shared resources (collaboration). In other cases, people challenge the "power over" them of others who deny them needed resources (conflict). In either case, the first step toward problem solving is to bring people with common interests together so they can begin to act on them. This is what leaders do. And that's why organizers focus on identifying, recruiting, and developing leaders.

Who Are Leaders?

Who is a leader? Many of us call to mind historic figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Jane Addams, Robert Kennedy or President Reagan. In reality, we find leaders everywhere - linking together networks through which we work to achieve common purposes. In every community, church, classroom, and organization hundreds of people are doing the work of leadership without which these efforts would not survive.

Although we associate leaders with certain kinds of attributes (like power), a more useful way to look at leadership is as a kind of relationship. James McGregor Burns argues leadership can be understood as a relationship that emerges from repeated "exchanges" or "transactions" between leaders and followers or constituents. Leaders can provide resources constituents need to address their interests and constituents can provide resources leaders need to address theirs. (Leadership Chart #1)

What do we get from entering into this kind of relationship? Those of us in the role of followers may get help solving a problem we have, gain a sense of empowerment, gain access to other resources we need, etc. Those of us in the role of leaders may get the same things - and something else besides, something that makes us willing to accept the responsibilities that go with leadership. Dr. King describes this as the "drum major instinct" - a desire to be first, to be recognized, even to be praised. As much as we might not want to admit it, does this sound familiar? But rather than condemn it - it is, after all, part of us - Dr. King argues it can be a good thing, depending on what we do to earn the recognition we seek. He quotes Jesus as saying to James and John, "if you want to be my disciples you not only "can" be first, you must be first - first in love and first in service."

Based on this view of leadership, then, who makes leaders? Can they be self-anointed? Can I decide one day that I am a leader? Or do I have to earn leadership by entering into relationship with those who can make me a leader by entering into a relationship with me - followers or constituents. This makes it easy to recognize leaders. There is one simple test. Do they have followers? Fine speeches, a wonderful appearance, lovely awards and excellent work aside - no followers, no leaders. You may not agree with this, but consider it.

How Does Leadership Work?

Many of us may not want to think of ourselves as followers or as leaders, for that matter. Often we are told, especially in an institution like this one, that we are all leaders all the time...or we should want to be. Leadership is highly praised, but no one says anything about good followership, what it means to be a good constituent. I argue here that organizations only work when people are willing to accept roles of leadership and followership. Leading and following are not expressions of who we "are" but of what we "do" - in a specific meeting, committee, project, organization, or institution. We may play a leadership role in one project and a followership role in another.

What are the differences in those roles? Leaders accept responsibility for very specific pieces of work a group must do to be able to work together successfully. Doing this work - work that makes it possible for us all to succeed - is how leaders earn their leadership. As Jo Freeman argues, organization (or collaboration of any kind, for that matter) simply doesn't work if we don't have ways to assign responsibilities and hold ourselves accountable for fulfilling them. A most important responsibility is that of seeing to the needs of the group as a whole. And although leadership can be exercised by individuals working in teams - a leadership team can bring complementary strengths to bear on solving a given problem - the responsibility of seeing to the team itself still has to rest somewhere.

Another important distinction Burns makes, following upon our discussion of power last week, is that between leadership and domination. Effective leaders facilitate the interdependence or collaboration that can create more "power to" -- based on the interests of all parties. Domination is the exercise of "power over" --a relationship that meets interests of the "power wielder" at the expense of everyone else. Leadership can turn into domination if we fail to hold it accountable.

We are also wise to distinguish "authority" from "leadership." Authority is "legitimacy" of command usually attached to specific social positions, offices, or roles - legitimacy supported by cultural beliefs as well as coercive resources. An organization is a way to formalize authority relations among the participants – people's rights and their obligations. Bureaucracies structure authority as a set or rules according to which managers direct subordinates. Markets structure authority as a set of rules according to which each entrepreneur create incentives for individuals to makes choices based on their individual self-interest and resources. Civic associations – organizations we are focusing on in this course – usually structure authority democratically in the sense that leaders are accountable to the constituents whom they serve. Exercising leadership in a civic context probably requires more skill than in the other settings because it depends more on persuasion than on command.

Most of us have been in situations in which those with authority have not earned their leadership, but try to compel cooperation based solely on this legitimacy. In these circumstances, to what extent do we think our interests are acknowledged and addressed? How does this affect our motivation and performance?

Cultures have institutionalized beliefs about whom is "authorized" to lead and who isn't that can bar certain "kinds" of people from the opportunity to earn leadership. In these cases leaders may develop a challenge to conventional ideas of authority. Authority can also be a resource a person can draw upon to earn their leadership. And sometimes leaders find authority has been conferred upon them as a result of their having earned their leadership. But leadership and authority are not the same thing.

Finally, leaders can be distinguished from "activists." Hard working activists show up every day to staff the phone bank, pass out leaflets, and put up posters, and make critical contributions to the work of any volunteer organization. This is not the same, however, as engaging others in doing the work of the organization. Leadership is exercised through relational work.

What Do Leaders Do?

We've said a great deal about what leadership is and isn't, but what is it exactly that leaders do to earn their leadership. What is the organizational work they do? And why is it so important?

Most of us have had lots of experience in "disorganizations," as shown in Leadership Chart #1. What are they like?

• They are divided. Factions and divisions fragment the organization and sap it of its resources.

• They are confused. Each person has a different story about what's going on. There is a lot of gossip, but not very much good information.

• They are reactive. They are always trying to respond to some unanticipated new development.

• They are passive. Most "members" do very little so one or two people do most of the work.

• And they drift. There is little purposefulness to meetings, actions, or decisions as things "drift" from one meeting to the next.

Being part of a disorganization can be pretty discouraging, demotivating, and makes us ask ourselves why we're involved at all.

On the other hand, some of us may have had experience with organizations that really work.

• They are united. They have learned to manage their differences well enough that they can unite to accomplish the purposes for which they were formed. Differences are openly debated, discussed, and resolved.

• They share understanding. There is a widely shared understanding of what's going on, what the challenges are, what the program is and why what is being done had to be done.

• They take initiative. Rather than reacting to whatever happens in their environment, they are proactive, and act upon their environment.

• People participate. Lots of people in the organization are active - not just going to meetings, but getting the work of the organization done.

• There share a sense of purpose. There is purposefulness about meetings, actions, and decisions and sense of forward momentum as work gets done.

So what makes the difference? Why are some groups disorganizations and other groups organizations? It is the quality of the work leaders do within them that makes groups work.

• Leaders turns division into solidarity by building, maintaining, and developing relationships among those who form the organization.

• Leaders turns confusion into understanding by facilitating interpretation of what is going on with the work of the organization.

• Leaders turn reaction into initiative by strategizing - thinking through how the organization can use its resources to achieve its goals.

• Leaders turn passivity into participation by motivation - inspiring people to commit to the action required if the group's goals are to be accomplished.

• Leaders turns inaction into action by mobilizing people to turn their resources into specific actions by means which they can achieve their goals.

• Leaders transforms drift into purpose by accepting responsibility for doing the leadership work which must be done if the group is to succeed and challenging others to accept their responsibility as well.

Each week, for the next four weeks, we look at a different aspect of how leadership is exercised in organizing - relationship building, interpretation, strategy, motivation, and action.

Leadership and Delegation

So if leaders are so important to any organization, how can an organization make sure it has the leaders it needs to accomplish its mission? I argue organized people are empowered to make lots of things happen- especially new organizations learning to do new things - not by the efficiency of its systems, but by the depth of its leadership capacity. This is particularly true of civic associations that bring people together, facilitate their understanding of one another, and enable them to act together on common interests.

Take a look at the "leadership quotient" of your organization. How many leaders do you see doing leadership work? Is there one "leader" with everyone else linked to that leader like spokes to the hub of a wheel? Or are there lots of "leaders" linked with each other and with other members, multiple centers of coordination, inspiration and action. Are some people "followers" in relation to some "leaders" but "leaders" in relation to other "followers"? Or are some people always "leaders" and others always "followers"? Is it "leadership rich" or is it "leadership poor"?

So what does it take to develop a "leadership rich" organization? As Moses had to learn as described in the selection from Numbers, it takes learning to delegate - letting others take real responsibility for leadership as well. Letting others take responsibility -- especially for outcomes of projects we care about -- can be very difficult. What if they mess up? What if they don't come through? What if I pick the wrong person? What will I do then? Maybe it's "safer" if I just do it myself. I can do it faster myself. Does any of this sound familiar? As shown in Leadership Chart #2, paying attention to seven things can help make delegation work:

• Risk

Risk small failures early in the life of a project in order to avoid big failures later on. If you take the risks required to learn to delegate, you will learn how to do it and you will learn who "comes through" and who doesn't. It is important to learn this with a small meeting at stake and not the monster rally of 5000 at which only 50 people show up. One reason to set up quantifiable goals, regular reports, and ongoing evaluation is to detect early failure and success so they become "learning opportunities" for everyone. "So, Mary, why did that work so well?" "So, Sam, what happened there? What could you have done differently?" Don't assume everyone is going to do everything right from the very beginning because it never happens. Also, it is often not completely clear what the "right" way is at the beginning of a project. Think about how to turn this fact to your advantage.

• Selection

We develop good judgment about people by taking risks, making choices, experiencing success and failures, and learning from this experience - and we will still be surprised. On the other hand, the more experienced we are the better judgment we can begin to develop. There is no "rule book" to go to on this, but if you are afraid to risk making choices, you never learn to make good choices. These are some questions it may help to ask yourself. How do you select to whom to delegate? How do you know who the right person is? How can you find out ahead of time? How do you know when a person is ready for a big job? Are you selecting them because they are easily available or because they are the right people for the job? Are you selecting them because they already know what to do because you have worked together before or because they "look as if they can learn what to do" with some good coaching? Or did you select them because you "heard" they were good? Where did you hear that? Who told you? Should you believe them? How do you know?

• Motivation

When looking for someone to take responsibility, don't make the responsibility easier, and easier, and easier. . . until there's nothing left. The challenge is learning to motivate people to accept the level of responsibility needed to get the job done. And when a person has accepted responsibility, the motivation work continues. Keeping others motivated, keeping your self motivated, and getting the work done go together - all are based on real accountability, lots of coaching, and lots of recognition of success.

• Responsibility

Delegation is not about assigning tasks, but offering responsibility. It is different to ask "would you make these 50 phone calls telling people about the meeting?" or "would you take responsibility for getting 10 people to come to the meeting?" "You will?" " Great!" "Here's some things that may help you contact them and get them there -- a list of names and phone numbers of people who said they were interested, 100 leaflets, some posters, and some sign-up sheets you could use to get commits." Do you see the difference? With the "task," the person can become a kind of yo-yo: go do this, come back for what's next, go do that, come back for what's next. They are "helping" you with your responsibility. With a "responsibility," the person takes it and runs with it, and you can help them meet "their" responsibility.

• Support

Once a person accepts responsibility, it is in your interest to offer her as much support as she wants to insure her success. The challenge is learning to offer support without taking back the responsibility. "Oh, you'll get the ten people to come? Great! Let's sit down for a few minutes and "role play" just what you're going to say to them." Or "give me a call to tell me how it's going -- or if you run into problems." A regular coaching session means you want to meet not because you think they are in trouble, but because you are interested in their work. These sessions can be very useful for learning what's really going on out there as well.

• Accountability

Delegation is real only if the person is clearly accountable for the responsibility he or she accepted. Accountability should be regular, specific, and timely. The point of accountability is not to catch someone to punish them, but to learn what kind of results they are getting so everyone can learn from them. If some one is having trouble, we need to learn why so we can figure out what to do about it. If someone is being successful, we need to learn why so we can try the same thing in other places. Without accountability the most important learning we can do in the course of a campaign -- systematic reflection on our own experience -- is impossible.

• Authority

You cannot expect a person to take responsibility without authority. If you want someone to take the responsibility to get 10 people to a meeting, hold them accountable, provide training, offer support -- but give them the authority to do what they've been asked to do. If you see or hear of them making a mistake - - or think you can do it better -- this means going directly to them, not around them or taking care of it for them. It is really a matter of basic respect.

Leadership Development

Developing a leadership rich organization not only requires learning to delegate; it requires a conscious strategy for identifying leaders (opportunities for leaders to emerge), recruiting leaders (opportunities for leadership to be earned), and developing leaders (opportunities for leaders to grow).

Identifying leaders requires looking for them. Who are people with followers? Who brings others to the meetings? Who encourages others to participate? Who attracts others to working with them? Whom do other people tell you to "look for."? Alinsky writes about community networks knit together by "native" leaders - people who take the responsibility for helping a community do its work out of their homes, small businesses, neighborhood hangouts, etc. They can be found coaching athletic teams, organizing little leagues, serving in their churches, and surfacing in other informal "schools" of leadership. Where would you look for these kinds of leaders around here?

Although leading is a matter of "doing" and not "being," there are some ways of being that can help you lead. It is hard for a person who has not learned to be a good listener to become an effective leader - you have to understand the interests of your constituency if you are to help them act on those interests. Listening means learning to attend to feelings - empathy - as well as ideas because the way we feel about things affects our actions more than what we think about them. Curiosity helps us see the novel as interesting rather than threatening, enabling us to learn how to face new challenges that are always a part of organizational life. A good imagination helps because strategizing is a matter of imagining different futures and possible ways to get to them. A sense of humor helps you from taking yourself and your troubles too seriously and helps keep things in perspective. A healthy ego is very important - arrogance and a wish to dominate others are usually the sign of a weak ego constantly in need of reassurance. Leadership also requires courage - the willingness to take risks, make choices, and accept the consequences.

Recruiting leaders requires giving people an opportunity to earn leadership. Since followers create leaders, they can't appoint themselves and you can't appoint them. What you can do is create opportunities for people to accept the responsibilities of leadership and support them in learning how to fulfill these responsibilities. If you have to get the word out for a meeting, you can get three of your friends to help you pass out leaflets in the Yard one day or you can find one or two people in each House who will take responsibility for recruiting 5 people from their House to attend. They earn their leadership by bringing the people to the meeting. What other ways can you think of that you can give people the opportunity to earn leadership?

Developing leaders requires structuring the work of the organization so it affords as many people as possible the opportunity to learn to lead - delegation. Distributing the leaflets through House Committees, for example, shares the responsibility for engaging others with many people. It is true organizing the work in this way can be risky. You may delegate to the wrong people; they may let you down, etc. But as Moses learned in the reading from Numbers, if you fear delegating, the strength of the community is stifled and can never grow. But you can do things to increase the chances of success. Leadership training sessions help clarify what is expected of leaders in your organization, give people the confidence to accept leadership responsibilities, and express the value your organization places on leadership development. As Hackman and Walton show, you can provide the kind of "coaching" which helps new leaders strategize about their responsibilities and encourages them as they deal with difficult situations.


Although identifying, recruiting and developing leaders is critical to the capacity - or power - of most organizations, it is the particular focus of organizers whose work, in a sense, is to be leaders of leaders. The primary responsibility of an organizer is to develop the leadership capacities of others and, in this way, of the organizations through which their constituents act on their common interests.

© Marshall Ganz, Kennedy School, 2000

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