Political strength begins with people skills
When Andr? Carothers started working as an activist for Greenpeace 20 years ago, he was motivated by the same desire that brought lots of other young people to that organization: He wanted to change the world, to make it more just and humane. But after many years working with a dozen progressive nonprofits, he realized that real social change depends as much on helping activists change from the inside as it does on campaigning for change ?out there? in the world.
Grounded in Gandhi?s idea that you need to be the change you want to see in the world, Carothers founded the Rockwood Leadership Program, which offers training around the country to managers of social change organizations. More than 400 people have graduated from Rockwood?s Art of Leadership program, a two-and-a-half-day workshop based on the premise that self-examination and improved communication skills are essential to creating a better world.
What is the relationship between leadership and social change?
?Our training encourages activists to look inside and find out which part of them is contributing to their political and social goals, and which is not. There is an assumption among progressives that correct political analysis is the Holy Grail. But you can?t get a group to work together successfully without taking care of their hearts and souls. People on the left tend to be very smart, very analytic, very devoted to parsing out the whys and wherefors of what we?re doing at this point in history. The downside of that is that it tends to leave the people factor out.
?Part of social change work is making a personal appeal about how we should treat the world and each other. But if the movement doesn?t ?walk the talk,? then we can?t expect the general public to join us. One of the reasons progressive organizations are vulnerable to the critique that the right levels at them?which is that they care less about humans than about animals and other things?is in part that they haven?t exercised the heart muscle in their work. For reasons that are hard to describe, the general public can tell.?
Have you been criticized for this approach?
?Some argue that this focus on the internal aspects of leadership is a diversion of some kind, but that?s partly because nonprofits are starved for time and money. So it is natural that activists think that anything that doesn?t smell of political action is a diversion. We just make the opposite case. Our training is political action. You can?t do successful politics without attention to the heart, soul, and skill of the operation.?
What are some basic things we can do to make conversations easier, particularly with those with whom we may disagree on key points?
?First you ask, ?What am I here for? To be right? Or to connect with people and get something done?? Once you?ve established that, take a deep breath and listen really carefully. Put yourself in their shoes, imagine what it?s like for them to be with you at this moment. After you are sure that they feel heard, deliver your truth in a way that is easy for them to hear. You want to position yourself in a way that moves a person toward you. That is rarely, if ever, a combative position. It?s always this welcoming position. So if you can keep yourself in this welcoming posture, you can talk to anyone, and have a humane and intelligent conversation rather than an oppositional one. People don?t get moved through being persuaded. People get moved through being aligned.
For more information about Rockwood Leadership Program and the Art of Leadership trainings, visit www.rockwoodfund.org, or call 510/524-4000.