Every successful leader must keep in balance three responsibilities: to fight causes, grow people and build organisations. If you don’t, your work will fail – no matter how good you are at one of them. A good worker, can concentrate on one aspect, but a good leader must look after all of them.
Most people think activism is just about fighting for a cause. Not everyone is good at this or enjoys it. Thus, many people who would like to make a difference miss their opportunity. Others who do like fighting causes, neglect people and organisations and thus limit their success.
Your cause could be the Sanctity of Life, world missions, sexual purity or stopping crime. You must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, your priorities and what you will sacrifice to get it.
To fight causes, you must speak up boldly, for example by sending a letter to the newspaper, a political leader or company. If a person or organisation does wrong, you confront them and explain what they should do instead. If they don’t, ask others to add pressure too.
You need to learn about a few key issues which you can fight for – and be able to defend your position. Read books on the issue and ask a leader to answer your questions. You communicate by speaking, writing or demonstration such as placard holding or marching.
If you don’t have a cause: Your organisation will turn into a social or educational club and your leadership may become driven by personal ambition. Once you gain power, you will fail to use it to achieve anything worthwhile, because other people will pull you in different directions and keep you busy.
To grow people, you can encourage them and show confidence in them. If they make a mistake, you can challenge them and explain what you would have done. Help them get a vision for what they can achieve. Recognise them when they do something successfully.
People seldom arrive with all the skills they need for their role, but you can help them learn, for example by lending them relevant books or sending them on courses. Invite them to do tasks with you, even if it takes longer. If they learn, they will be one day be able to do it without you. Don’t give everyone equal time. Some have more potential and commitment than others. Give four fifths of your time to the best fifth of your people. Teach people about issues, self-management, leadership and organising.
If someone works too hard or looks drained, you must help them to pace themselves and keep their life balanced. You must also grow yourself and see that you don’t burn out.
If you don’t grow people: Your members may burn out emotionally; and your organisation will suffer relationship tensions. Some people won’t perform at their work, because they miss important skills. When they fail, they will get a poor self-image and maybe quit. Worst of all, you will end up doing too much work yourself, because of a lack of trained people to delegate to. When you leave, there will be no one to take your place.
Building your organisation
To build organisations, you need to raise and manage money, recruit members, draw up plans, collect materials and resources and learn to organise. People must be given a vision for the organisation so they understand how they fit in. Doing social activities together can help build relationships that keep the group united and working smoothly. Organisations need authority structures, regular meetings and clear responsibilities.
Members of the group must be kept informed of opportunities to get involved and encouraged by news of the successes of the group. Organisations must be governed and accountable to responsible leaders. The public must get to know the name of your organisation.
Coalitions and networks bond organisations together into bigger groups with common interests. In this way, you build capacity and become stronger, so that you are stronger to fight for your cause.
If you don’t build your organisation: Your organisation will wither away over time. Old workers will leave and you won’t have new ones to replace them. If you work the organisation too hard, but don’t also grow it – it may fall apart.
If you have no organisation, you will work too hard yourself, spend too much of your own money and always be vulnerable to uncommitted volunteers who may fail you.
Applying the principles
In every activity and project: try to find ways of growing people, fighting causes and building organisations.
Different types of people: have different motivations. For example: pastors tend to like growing people; activists like fighting causes; managers like building organisations. Your team should have all these types of people and the co-ordinating leader must see that time and effort is invested in each aspect.
Changing emphasis: An organisation can at different times have a different emphasis. For example, in planning a campaign, involve new people who can learn how to do things. During the campaign, the cause is emphasised. When this is finished, the group must consolidate gains to build the organisation. For example, interested people must be followed up, recruited as members and included in activities. When times are less busy, you can put effort into growing people.
A danger is that during a political crisis you spend too much time fighting the cause – and neglect people and the organisation. Afterwards, you may lose both. It is better to grow your capacity slowly over time so that you can keep fighting.
Coalitions:If you have many organisations involved in a project, try to see that each gets organisational benefits from it. For example: mention their name; try to encourage members to join them; spread costs fairly between organisations. If groups only want to help fight the cause, but not build up other organisations, they effectively weaken other groups by draining their resources. Don’t be selfish and only strengthen your group. By strengthening others, they an better fight for your interests than you can on your own.
So always remember to balance: your cause, your people and your organisation.