From Leadership Development to Co-leadership Creation. 
Moving From Helping to SharingEyes on the Floor

The youth council was wrapping up its first meeting. Ellis and Kay had been thrilled to see 15 young people turn out. “They really seem interested in the job fair. This is good!” Ellis whispered in Kay’s ear as they moved on to the last agenda item. The teens agreed that a job fair inviting possible employers to the school on a Saturday would be exciting and doable. Kay had her concrete activities to help the kids; Ellis could see a way for companies to give back. Given the energy in the room, the two young organizers were on a roll.

“So who can help with the flyer?” Kay asked the assembled group. Suddenly all eyes were on the floor, searching for some invisible speck of dust that only the teens could see. The energy in the room was replaced with an uneasy quiet.

“Come on, guys, a couple can help with the flyer, and I only need two people to come with me and speak to employers. What do you say?” Ellis was trying not to sound desperate.

Finally, Cece, one of the older members, shyly raised her hand. “I’ll sit with you, Kay, but I don’t know anything about flyers. You gotta show me.” The group seemed relieved that one of theirs had spoken at last. “That’s great, Cece, great! So who else? You know, you’re the leaders of this council. You get to make the decisions and lead this council, not us.” Kay was firm as she spoke, Ellis nodding alongside her.

Quiet descended on the room again. Robby spoke up at last. “Aww, Ellis, Kay, you’re the leaders, not us. We haven’t done this stuff before, you know. You guys are in graduate school! You know that you know more than we do, you know?”

The group laughed timidly at the repetition but did not disagree. “I can’t talk to some employer! What would I know what to say?”

Ellis and Kay looked at each other in consternation. Their ideas on leadership development included the young people in central roles from the beginning. While initially excited, the teens were suddenly backing off any real responsibility. What were they to do? They couldn’t make them participate; if they tried too hard, they’d lose them all. But if the young people did next to nothing, they’d never feel a sense of their own empowerment. Having a project that left young people as dependent as ever was just as upsetting.

The young organizers headed back to their favorite diner. Their organizing teacher had mentioned dilemmas like these in class, but up close, the lack of leadership in the council felt less like a dilemma and more like a mess. What could they do now?Introduction: Community Practitioners, Leadership Development, and the Modeling of Democratic Experience

As they are finding out, Ellis and Kay’s first brush with recruiting people to lead their own cause can be fraught with both personal anxiety and strategic tension to expand participation and involvement. Most of the organizing literature addresses these issues under topics of community engagement, issue development, and the choice of topics and targets (Homan, 2004; Netting, Kettner, & McMurtry, 2008; Rubin & Rubin, 2007). This emphasis is a necessary part of any organizing campaign and its strategic development; the reader is invited to use the Community Toolbox’s terrific tools (cited at the end of this chapter) for the concrete steps one can take in addressing engagement, member recruitment, and target selection.

As we shall see, such activities are about far more than these tasks, as important as they are. They are also about how leadership is formed and the dynamic interplay between group members and their assumptions about what democracy means. While the majority of social work literature on leadership still tends to treat the work of leadership development in a descriptive manner, such an emphasis is incomplete.1 While informative, most leadership literature neither captures the dynamic interplay between organizers and developing leaders nor makes clear how the creation of new leaders is fundamental in framing the contours of civic engagement within a democratic society.


1For example, one leading macro text devotes three pages to leadership with a focus on the different schools of organizational management and leadership (Netting et al., 2008, pp. 288–290). Other works have a broader focus on describing the types of members inside an organization or campaign, ranging from its central leaders to activists and participants (Homan, 2004; Rubin & Rubin, 2007) without emphasizing how people develop as leaders.


Of course, as Ellis and Kay’s experience suggests, one’s initial foray into leadership development can cause anxiety, difficulty, and concern for any community practitioner. As we saw in the last chapter, the dynamics between organizer and members begin with the strategic push for commitment—the member pull-back from involvement; later it can turn into member push for widespread change—the organizer tactical pull for long-term effectiveness. This role strain constructs its own tensions between group members that are partly overcome through the community practitioner’s growing awareness that such push–pull dynamics are a necessary part of a campaign’s development, as much a part of the job as creating flyers, holding meetings, and setting agendas.

But more is at play than role tension between macro practitioner and group members. As was made clear in Chapter 1, what kind of leadership we as a nation seek and how such leadership is expressed in terms of decision making, sharing power, and collaboration is now at play in ways not seen for more than 50 years. For the community practitioner, never before have Gandhi’s words, rephrased by the leadership writer Peter Senge (Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, & Flowers, 2004), been more apt: “Embody the change you seek.” How an organizer recruits people, works with them on their decision making, handles social tensions affected by power and oppression, and critiques as well as supports their work will construct the type of democratic experience between leader and led that he or she believes is possible.

In short, over time, a community practitioner’s actions have the potential to embody the transformative possibility that as the organized gain power, the organizer loses none. Expressing Steven Covey’s (2004), notion of win–win as 100%–100% in concrete form, the way a macro practitioner goes about her or his work is a powerful opportunity by which genuine democratic experience spreads through our society and captures the imagination of a new generation of activists and citizens. Given the collapse of other forms of leadership in our economic and political spheres, we seem to be at a historic moment where Paulo Freire’s (2000) emphasis on the slow, gradual process of dialogue between helpers and helped that necessarily begins with the frustrated anxiety of the organizer alongside the fear-driven apathy of the organized can be transformed into the shared democratic experience of mutually interdependent leaders, activists, and members. For as Freire (2000) wrote, “Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one” (p. 49). This chapter explores how the birth of this transformative experience for the organized and the organizer can occur.Thinking About Leadership

We need to begin with current ideas on leadership because leadership is so central to all forms of macro practice. We will address some of these issues in later chapters as organizers move on to positions as directors, supervisors, and executives. Here, we start when the organizer has little or no formal power, and yet he or she is involved with building lasting campaigns and expanding people’s organizations. Interestingly enough, in countless discussions with organizers, I have found their lists of accomplishments always related to programmatic development/campaign success that came to be run at least in part by community members. It seems clear that leadership development is to community organization and macro practice what social functioning is to clinical work (Saleebey, 2008).

That so cherished a hallmark of macro practice continues to be so underdeveloped in the organizing and macro practice literature itself is surprising (Austin, Brody, & Packard, 2008; De Pree, 1989, 1993; Heifetz, 1998; Senge, 1994). While there are numerous workshops and training programs on developing grassroots leaders (from the Midwest Academy to the Center for Third World Organizing), their work tends to focus on the techniques of leadership rather than on the methodology of leadership itself. With the exception of Eric Zachary’s (1997) study of leadership training for South Bronx parent leaders, little work distinguishes grassroots, community-based leadership from other, more traditional forms of managerially based models of leaders and their teams. It is as if leadership development is so universally agreed upon as a given objective of practice that it never dawned on anyone to study it as it actually takes place between the organizer and the organized.

Not that there has been little research on leadership itself. A quick google of the term leadership in 2009 leads to 16 million hits, while leadership development has an astounding 32 million! A more careful perusal, however, shows the focus is on the development of individual leaders, who in turn inspire, motivate, and develop their teams. Whether at the esteemed Center for Creative Leadership ( or the well-known and respected Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO;, the focus has consistently been on locating individuals to lead others from a paradigm that assumes limits on how one can lead and who can do so. While some, such as CTWO, are greatly committed to recruitment from communities others might ignore, the basic paradigm that transforms whether or not power can be shared over time has remained the same.Qualities of Leadership for the Macro Practitioner

The work on leadership itself has had some profound insights over the last 25 years that can be of real benefit to anyone involved in macro practice. Overwhelmingly written by and for the corporate sector, there are four primary themes related to a person’s leadership capacity that are deserving of note here:Developing the capacity to distinguish urgency, importance, and one’s use of time to handle the essential demands of one’s workday (Blanchard & Johnson, 1981; Covey, 1999, 2003, 2004; Shepard & Hayduk, 2002)Developing one’s personal mastery to better discern what is actually happening as opposed to what one perceives as happening. Through this internal attention to her or his ways of thinking and acting, the leader is also able to engage insystems thinking, that is, an ability to examine the underlying problems and issues that impact an organization’s development or a campaign’s long-term strategy (Argyis, 1991; Schön, 1991; Senge, 1994; Senge et al., 2004).Developing servant leadership in the way in which one works with others in a collaborative and “serve first” manner. Inspired by both the classic writings of LaoTze and the teachings of Jesus Christ, the work emphasizes that one must serve before leading as a key to one’s lasting legacy (Greenleaf & Spears, 2004). Several educational theorists, such as Bolman and Deal (2003), Covey (1999), Sergiovanni (2006), and Heifetz (1998), also reference these characteristics as essential components to effective leadership.Emerging recently from the human service field, a transformative leadership model has emphasized the notion that “if the work is sacred then so are you” so that those working in macro practice recognize that their long-term ability to create a lasting legacy through small, sacred acts each day includes self-care as fundamental to both personal well-being and the model of leadership one hopes to inspire in others (Burghardt & Tolliver, 2009).

The capacities to distinguish urgency from importance and to effectively use one’s time were most powerfully put forward through the work of Steven Covey. Starting with the key insight that a person’s ability to slow down his or her reaction time between receiving a stimulus and giving a response was at the heart of effective management, Covey’s original work can be of great value for macro practitioners, who are bombarded with the stimuli of campaign and organizational demands each and every day. Covey went on to see that what could help a person become more reflective and less reactive was to distinguish what was an urgent and important demand from an urgent and unimportant demand. The first set of demands, falling into what he called Quadrant I, were real crises and actual deadlines; what fell into the other (called Quadrant III) were problems and issues that never should have happened in the first place: others’ missed deadlines, unreturned phone calls, and missed meetings. The exhaustion and frustration of spending so much time on these Quadrant III activities in turn led people to spend time on passivity-inducing, mindless activities in Quadrant IV, ranging from gossip to mindless net surfing.

One of Covey’s key insights was therefore to work with leaders on what was important but not urgent in Quadrant II: long-term planning, relationship building, and self-care. His seminal work has helped countless managers, leaders, and others to see that how one carefully used time, including incorporating Quadrant II activities into one’s daily life, was fundamental to long-term managerial and leadership effectiveness (Covey, 1999, 2003, 2004).Personal Activity

Take a moment to create Covey’s Four Quadrants:Urgent & ImportantImportant & Not UrgentUrgent & Not ImportantNot Urgent & Not Important

In reviewing your week, list the activities in the four quadrants. Once completed, identify Quadrant III activities you’d like to lessen and add in new Quadrant II activities that would help achieve your objective (better planning, relationship building, etc.). See Steven Covey’s (2003) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for more on this topic.

Developing personal mastery and systems thinking so that the underlying causes of problems and concerns could be the focus of leaders and their teams. Masterfully synthesizing and building upon his MIT colleagues’ work on personal reflection and critical thinking, Peter Senge’s (1994) The Fifth Discipline focused on the mental and emotional faculties necessary to both work collaboratively and delve into what he called systems thinking, the ability to understand and connect the underlying and often interrelated causes of most organizational problems. While his work initially focused on the dynamics of the business cycle, he and his colleagues have gone on to work with both educational institutions and environmental organizations.

To use an example of interest to a young macro practitioner, through systems thinking, one would assess a problem like poor reading scores in a school and through deep reflection and practice develop a campaign that would focus less on an immediate improvement in test-taking instead, he or she would emphasize the interrelated causes of a lack of parental inclusion in a school’s life, the transfer of experienced and skilled teachers to other districts, and an imbalance of financial funding across the city or state. With each causal factor requiring different campaign targets and activities, the organizers could use one set of objectives to rally support for the other, deepening the campaign’s effectiveness without losing sight of the immediate demand for test score improvement. (See Chapter 7 for a fuller discussion of this process of strategic development.) Such systems thinking is obviously critical to long-term strategic effectiveness and to effective leadership.

Senge’s (1994) contribution extended beyond systems thinking, for he also brilliantly described the qualities of individual perception (called personal mastery) and thought processes (identified as mental models) that are needed if systems thinking is to occur. Personal mastery refers to how one develops the increasingly effortless ability to perceive “what is” in the world without judgment, projection, or intimidation. Such a quality noted by many commentators about President Obama is his cool demeanor in assessing and responding to grave economic and political problems.

Senge used the lovely example of the difference between a new, inexperienced potter and a master artisan to explain personal mastery. The new practitioner labors mightily to grab onto and shape the wet, porous clay around her wheel, only to create at best a misshapen, albeit well-intentioned, pot, saucer, or bowl. Ten years later, the inexperienced potter has evolved into the master artisan who seems to throw that same spongy clay while barely moving her hands, only to have a work of art appear soon after. The personal mastery of the artisan is the skillful, open, and flexible way she has applied herself to the same task over which she labored so intensely 10 years earlier. Developing such personal mastery in the effortless interpretation of the economic, political, and social forces that shape a macro practitioner’s life is, Senge (1994) would argue, fundamental in developing the kind of strategic insight one needs as a macro practitioner in order to have long-term impact on the systems that affect people’s lives.

To do this well while working with others also requires attention to what Senge calls the mental models one brings to thinking about the tasks at hand. As is made clear in Chapter 2, on tactical self-awareness, one of the ways people express their mental models is through their primary focus on either the tasks or the process of work. Senge clarifies that what one is drawn to, cognitively, may be about a specific type of content and the meanings we attach to certain words or actions. While to the young practitioner this may all sound like too much of a good thing, a brief mention of a few words used in a jobs campaign like Ellis and Kay’s can make clear it is not: employers/bosses, minimum-wage job/entry-level position, and opportunity/access can all mean very different things to different people in the same conversation. Is a boss a threat or an ally? Is a minimum-wage job a first leg up or a symptom of structural racism and sexism? Is access an example of fairness or unfairness?

Senge argues that the awareness of meaning we attach to powerful words used in problem solving as well as to the task or process focus of how to solve those problems helps a leader better work with others so that a more collaborative approach to our work together can occur.Reflective Questions

?On personal mastery: Reflect on an area of difficulty in your campaign or program. Assess (with others, if possible) assumptions about what is the problem at hand by imagining the benefits that come with the problem remaining unchanged. Who benefits? What is a new way to imagine the difficulty that might free up you and the group?

On mental models: Reflect on your approach to an ongoing campaign or program issue: How much of it is overly task oriented? Process oriented? What needs to be emphasized more to make the campaign even more effective?

Greenleaf and Spears’s (2004) contribution of servant leadership is valuable because they directly extend the role of leader into the relationship with those with whom one works. Equally important, they document the types of qualities one must have to be successful: less directing than serving. The qualities they identify are listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community. Many of these qualities are not unlike the best of what a social worker does: Listening, empathy, healing, awareness, and conceptualization have all been written about in most introductory texts (Mattaini, Meyer, & Lowery, 2007; Netting et al., 2008; Saleebey, 2008).

Greenleaf and Spears’s (2004) emphasis on foresight and commitment to the growth of others is clearly a powerful example of what macro practitioners do in leadership development as well. Foresight, or the ability to forecast future activities based on events that may not have happened yet but are foretold by the actions of others, is embedded in the push–pull between an organizer and those with whom she or he works. Such foresight is the basis of a powerfully constructed and dynamic practice where the macro practitioner is where the people are at plus one. Seeing such a skill as something to pass on to others as they develop their own talents is what Greenleaf and Spears identify as a way to diminish the potential elitism that successful forecasting would otherwise create in some. (Who truly needs others if only you can forecast what’s next?) Their recognition that a leader’s forecasting ability increases rather than diminishes his or her role in developing others for sustained growth in a community is of real value for effective macro practice.Personal Activity

Identify someone in your group, preferably someone not already in a formal leadership role, whose actions suggest real leadership ability. What are those actions? Why do they suggest the ability to lead? Reflect on different types of leaders the group may need. After identifying the person, engage in ongoing conversations with her or him that pose questions and issues in ways that elicit personal reflection as the person considers her or his role and responsibilities in the group.

A more human services–based transformative leadership model has built upon the work of Senge and colleagues (2004) and the Theory U paradigm developed by Otto Scharmer (2007). Working from a paradigm concerned with long-term environmental devastation of the planet, Scharmer’s work traces how teams of people, whether organizations or communities, must move through the fear, judgment, and cynicism that cloud reform efforts before they can arrive within themselves at the possibility of cocreation and communal well-being. Applied within the human services field, a transformative leadership model has emphasized the small, daily actions of meaning between leaders and managers and those with whom they work as the pivotal measure of an organization’s capacity to build a sustained, democratic community.

Transformative leadership places primary emphasis on the idea that “if the work is sacred, then so are you.” Here the authors pose a challenge of self-care to all social workers, macro or micro practitioners alike (Burghardt & Tolliver, 2009). By making both self-care and small actions with others as the sacred measure of a leader’s effectiveness, the work provides concrete examples of how embodying the change you seek comes to life among those in agencies and communities. Whether you’re practicing politeness with everyone who enters your agency, maintaining a neat and well-lit agency lobby, embracing social diversity as an asset and not a threat, or engaging in systems improvements as a form of leadership development, this model offers ways to inspire others without bonuses and to make a legacy through genuine service rather than the formal position one holds.Personal Activity

Reflect on your self-care and its impact on your own leadership style and internal balance inside the campaign or program of which you are a part. Where in the day can you add in more self-care, whether it’s walking to and from work, taking 10 minutes to meditate each day, or spending down time with a good book? Can you make a sacred commitment to yourself to practice the Second Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you seek to do unto others?From Individual Leaders to a New Paradigm for Co-Leadership

While the above and other works offer meaningful insights as to what individuals may do to inspire and motivate others and to live a life of integrity, the idea that macro practitioners can work with others in ways so that all participants are transformed together is still underdeveloped. This is not surprising; leadership models from the corporate sector have little reason to address the conditions from below that emanate from people without power unless they affect the bottom line. Social work values related to self-determination understandably are not part of such a model.

However, when the stated organizing outcomes are progressive, the inattention to the type of leadership being developed can undermine long-term successes in terms of altering power and decision making. For example, the well-known Midwest Academy, a citizen action training center, provides thorough, direct action training for grassroots activists. At the same time, its core essentials of direct action place little to no emphasis on leadership styles and the relationship of the leader to group members that is any different from traditional, hierarchical models.2


2Midwest Academy’s five-day direct action workshops list the following topics: (1) identifying the problem; (2) turning the problem into an issue; (3) developing strategy; (4) bringing people to face the decision maker; (5) the decision maker reacting to the group; and (6) winning, regrouping, beginning again. None of the dynamics of power as related to the internal development of the group and members’ long-term awareness of themselves as consciously distinct leaders are developed. See


So we find that a hallmark of our work is well researched for corporate organizations and yet much less understood among those working within communities. This confusing irony increases when we consider one of the standard yet equally understated techniques of daily organizing work in this training process: the use of ourselves as models of leadership. If, in the role of enabler, facilitator, advocate, broker, and so on, we are presenting a style of leadership that implicitly constructs what we want others to emulate, it would seem that we need clarity on what we are about, too. We therefore better know a bit more about our own daily roles in our presentation of leadership models, including our manner of decision making, how open we are to suggestions, how well we share power, and our own comfort with a genuinely diverse set of leaders and activists.

To do this, of course, means understanding why such knowledge is important in an ongoing relationship, a skill that goes beyond any simple self-assignment into a role category like liaison or advocate. As this chapter will suggest, we have the potential to be even more effective if we can learn to incorporate other social work methods into our work; doing so may make it possible to focus our attention on the full range of human relationships, both personal and political. We may then find that instead of socially reproducing a set of leaders consistent with standard notions of hierarchy, deference, and so on, we are creating leadership alternatives quite different from traditional models. After all, if we start with the idea that leadership development is not a hallowed goal but a process by which people change themselves and the organizers as they work together on common organizing tasks, then what goes into that process itself will actually determine long-term, sustained transformation among those with whom we work.

Using casework skills for transformative leadership. Seeking a more transformative model of leadership explains—perhaps ironically—why casework interviewing and assessment techniques can add so much to a macro practitioner’s work. Casework interviewing skills are important in organizing precisely because the unstructured nature of most community organizing settings heightens the vagueness of the interpersonal process within one’s work. As community-based practitioners, we seek people out and conduct interviews on the street, in bars, over lunch, and in crowded rooms. While hardly conforming to the classical contextual specifications mentioned by Garrett, Donner, and Sessions (1995), the shifts from highly content-specific to person-specific experiences that develop in organizing (almost spontaneously at times) occur with remarkable frequency and must be attended to if a person is to be seen in his or her entirety.

Indeed, I will argue that when these events occur, a macro practitioner is confronted with an opportunity of tremendous consequence for her or his work. Not only may trust be deepened between two people as they learn from each other about what at first may be perceived as extraordinary (nonstrategic/nonorganizational) issues in each other’s lives; if developed correctly, it is also possible for the now personally engaged individuals to begin extending the mechanics of leadership development into the realm of what Freire (2000) calls critical consciousness, or what I will more concretely call critical reflection in action. As we shall see, this process expands leadership training beyond the immediate work itself (which will be limited and thus highly pragmatic) and instead takes it toward larger social concerns that may necessitate deeper transformations in society—and different types of leadership.3


3It is no accident, for example, that women’s movement rap sessions were called consciousness-raising groups. The intent of these groups is to explore and give support to individual women’s problems and, in the process, to consciously connect those parts of their problems that are rooted in social conditions. They then explore personal and social issues and how they intertwine to develop not just leadership (a personal goal) but leadership in new forms, that is, without the patriarchal forms of leadership promulgated by men (a social goal).


I cannot underscore enough the point that your use of both case and community organization skills is not simply to broaden your professional role. If we assume that critical reflection in action demands an ability to intuitively feel and intellectually understand the way in which the world is organized, this joint mixture of skills becomes the sine qua non of engaged practice. To begin with, one crucial but often overlooked fact about most organizing situations and leadership is that organizers, unlike executives, initially are expected to undertake leadership development within a context of perceived failure. Often, of course, the failure is not of the group’s or individual’s making. The responsibility or blame may lie elsewhere, but that does not change the immediate perceptions of the group as to why they are working together.

This is why our purpose in the development of strategic practice, as discussed in Chapter 4, is to heighten the underlying tensions between what people may perceive about the world and how the world actually is. By definition, those perceptions, no matter how legitimate they may have once been, create an impression that previous community efforts failed to correct problems still needing to be resolved. The experience of having lived with these feelings of at least partial failure imbues people with a touch of resignation, self-blame, doubt, or confusion as to who is right or wrong. People are going to feel uncertain about how much of their problem is due to their own ineffectiveness and how much is beyond their control. This uncertainty will surface in different situations. The practitioner, in recognizing where people are at, will therefore have to focus on altering both the situation andpeople’s perception of their past failures regarding that situation. To do otherwise would be disrespectful.

In short, there simply is no way to divide out process and content for the critically reflective organizer concerned with leadership development, even when concrete objective tasks may be great and potential systemic change is difficult. The way we work with people will greatly influence what those people do, not only in the short-run campaigns of meaningful direct action, but also in addressing the long-term needs for new models of leadership that confront present power relationships in dramatically new form.Reflect