I mentioned yesterday that the last section of the book I’m working on is about cultivating nascent communities. Part of that is investing in the next generation. How does a community bring in new energy? How do they invest now in future leaders?
“Back when I started, it seemed like every event I went to for Planned Parenthood, someone, an older woman usually, would stop me and say, ‘Where are the young people? I feel like we did all this, we fought for their rights. They’re just taking it for granted.’
I never hear that anymore, because young people are everywhere at Planned Parenthood. Again, I think that’s just something that takes time. It takes resources. Takes investment. And it takes a willingness for people to let young people lead.”
Enabling young leaders was top of mind for me this past week after 28 year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her Democratic Primary against a 10-term incumbent.
Let’s not sit and wait for new leaders to spring from the soil. Cultivate them for your community, for our country. Invest.
Today I wrote an intro to a section of our book entitled “Once you’re big, go small.” It’s about cultivating nascent communities and helping your group evolve.
Organizing a community is a lot like gardening. You can water, nurture, plant, and prune with intention, but you’re working with living and breathing material. What results is out of your hands.
The image of the singular leader is a myth. A good test of a leader is how well they enable leadership among those they serve.
Instead of being the most valuable node in the network, they build the network’s value by strengthening its nodes.
Credit: Diagram from this lecture by Marshall Ganz.
Mobilizing isn’t the same as organizing. From Marshall Ganz:
“I want to make a distinction here between mobilizing and organizing. Mobilizing is getting people to sign the petition, show up at that rally, or click the mouse. Often that’s a tactic involved in the process of organizing change.
But organizing is the part where people come together to decide, ‘Do we want to do that?’ ‘Why do we want to take this on?’ It’s the development of the infrastructure of relationships, leadership, and capacity to make decisions about what kinds of tactics to use.”
I’ve come to appreciate precise language. Clear definitions communicate clear ideas which enable us to pursue shared goals.
For any type of work, defining how to measure success is a critical undertaking. Clarity around success metrics helps us make decisions big and small.
Yet defining success is especially tricky if your work involves organizing people towards a common goal. Is achieving the goal—hitting the number, scoring the goal, passing the bill—the only metric that matters? What about the health of our community?
When is organizing successful? Ask:
- Did we accomplish the goal?
- Did our community grow stronger?
- Did the individuals involved learn and grow?
This mix of success factors prevents us from ignoring adversely affecting our people in the pursuit of a goal or attaining goals without building capacity among those we serve.
Success demands achieving outcomes by developing others.
My former boss Jerri, once said:
“A community isn’t a community unless it’s organizing itself.”
Structure like guidelines, hierarchy, roles, and expectations can help a group of people effectively organize and operate. But too much structure can be stifling. Too much can take away ownership and spontaneity.
How much structure is appropriate for your community?
Today I wrote about what data to monitor as you or your organization work to cultivate a community.
The most important thing is to pay attention to who keeps showing up.
Observing how many people regularly participate, discovering who they are, and understanding their motivations will help you make better decisions to serve the group.