Small Victories

allies
Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

— Howard Zinn

The persuit of social change is not always about big wins. When you are in it for the long haul . . .

Sometimes you will change just one person’s mind.

Sometimes you will point out complexities where people saw only black and white.

Sometimes you will sow seeds of uncertainty.

Sometimes you will point out ambiguities.

Sometimes you will remind people to examine their own competing values.

Sometimes you will meet one new, likeminded ally.

Small victories create the underpinnings for the platforms upon which change is built. Leaders of change need to identify these victories, and articulate their value to your allies. Recognizing the small wins serves to remind us that leadership is a distributed activity that takes place at an interpersonal level. Every person engaged in every small action is demonstrating leadership for change.

Balancing Charitable Maintenance with Actions that Achieve Real Social Change

We are frequently challenged by issues that divide our time, resources, and energy between short-term maintenance of symptoms, and strategic organizing around a real solutions to deeper social problems. For example, soup kitchens and food shelves do not solve the problem of persistent malnutrition. They are critically important, and potentially life-saving maintenance strategies, but they do not begin to get to the core of the issue of poverty.

The temporary solution, and the permanent solution have a complex relationship. The temporary fix frequently has a charity approach. The implementation of this approach often occurs without an eye to broader social change. For instance, if you are motivated by the Bible, and Matthew 26:11 says ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ then you may simply feel that it is your Christian duty to be charitable to a permanent class of needy poor people. Further complicating matters is the fact that the short-term charity is a quick exchange that makes the benefactors feel good about themselves. The complex unraveling of causes and options that could lead to a more permanent solution, just seems like hard work – because it is.people-875379_640

The permanent solution requires a commitment to the belief that the so-called “needy” have paths out of poverty. Identifying and navigating those paths requires political will, and investment in low income people’s abilities to be productive, gainfully employed residents of the community.

So what does all of this have to do with leadership? Let’s return to the example of hunger.

Who is actively working on the issue of hunger in your community? Was your immediate response organizations that are involved solely in hunger relief? Probably. People need to eat every day. Hunger, as a phenomenon, is a daily concern. Hunger, as a social issue, however, requires a simultaneous focus on increasing the wealth of individuals and families who have less money than other people in our communities.

Leaders engage in strategic planning. They need to know who is already participating in related work, and whose intellectual, relational, natural, and financial assets have yet to be leveraged to achieve their common goal.

Malnutrition, hunger, and related concerns are all most effectively addressed when we see them as community development, workforce development, and economic development issues. It’s simple, people with more money overall, have more money to spend on food. So by all means, feed people. Treat them with dignity, and recognize their humanity. Your efforts, however, must also be complemented by plans to increase the wealth of those same people as part of a sustainable solution to the challenges to seek to overcome.

Leaders Versus Managers

“You don’t manage people; you manage things. You lead people.”
-Admiral Grace Hooper

leader v mgrAdapted from a table at changingminds.org

This comparison is similar to the Entrepreneurs Versus Administrators relationship. One big difference is that entrepreneurship is usually associated with business or enterprise development. Of course, at the core of all of our explorations here is the idea of getting things done. Things do get done in organizations with rigid vertical organizational charts. Things also get done when passionate leaders build relationships and leverage diverse skills and
common values. A comparison of leaders and managers on the website diffen.com asks some questions that get to the heart of choosing an approach:

  • Does a manager have to be a great leader?
  • Does a leader need to have good management skills?

My response to both questions is, “not necessarily, but a little bit couldn’t hurt.” This is really a case of something not being questions of either/or, but rather times when both/and makes much more sense.

It’s like Grace Hooper said in the quote at the top of the page, people need leadership, but there are always details related to their work that require management. Even though these discussions center around leadership, business management guru Tom Peters is right when he said: “Stop being conned by the old mantra that says, ‘Leaders are cool, managers are dweebs.’ Instead, follow the Peters Principle: Leaders are cool. Managers are cool too!”

With this in mind, it seems critical for leaders to identify what aspects of the work that they are involved in require commitment to detailed control, and what aspects lend themselves to serving as a guide to help others navigate new terrain.