Tips for Youth Leaders: Organizing, Building Relationships & Cultivating New Leaders

Organizing is building power in people to create change. Whereas advocacy may involve speaking on behalf of people affected by an issue, organizing involves empowering and mobilizing those directly affected. As organizers it’s critical we build relationships and cultivate new leaders. Following are tips on both.

1. Building relationships.
Relationships are one of our most important resources. Taking time to really get to know people, what motivates them, what issues they care about, and what skills they’d like to gain is key. A great tool for this is the One-on-One Meeting.

One-on-Ones are essentially two people sitting down and talking about their interests, motivations and stories. If you are a leader of the meeting, for example an existing group leader inviting a potential new member to connect, here are some goals for the conversation from Midwest Academy:

  • ask what their hopes are, what they would like to see in their lives.
  • find out what they are angry or concerned about.
  • learn about leadership experience and interests.
  • talk about their affiliations, interests and connections.

An important output of the meeting is helping people feel connection and place within the group. Your goal is to surface the ties and threads that will connect you, and connect them to the group and the work.

As a group leader, building time in for group members to informally get to know each other beyond a One-on-One is an important ongoing task. Here are some ideas for building in time and space for this to happen:

  • Icebreakers and introductions at meetings and events are an important time for people to share. Think about having participants make a creative name tag, for example, and if you have a large group in which personal full-group introductions are tough try giving participants time to talk in groups of 2 or 4.
  • Social time and experiences are really important too. Always leave time for people to hang out over a meal, and/or schedule a fun group activity to help people get to know each other.

2. Pushing power out: building leaders.
Power is a critical and deep concept, central to our work as organizers and advocates. While we can spend full workshops on the concept of power, following are some quick tips for building power of group members and emerging leaders.

  • Help your group understand the system and origins of the issues you’re working on.
  • Cultivate new leaders. Always keep the door open for new voices to rise within your group.
  • Decentralize leadership as much as possible. A helpful phrase is to “push power to the edges”. For example if your group is organizing events on multiple campuses, don’t try to steer the ship from the core. Rather support group members in leading each event. And encourage each of those leaders to find additional leaders at the campus level to lead specific aspects of the event. Always push power outwards.
  • On a related note, provide space for people to gain leadership skills. Encourage others to do public speaking, lead lobby meetings, organizing events, and more.
  • Build in space for leaders to cultivate new leaders and skills. View leadership as an opportunity to train the next generation of leaders.

A helpful way to view leadership is through considering the various hats that leaders wear, including:

  • The captain. The leaders sets course, delegates and monitors progress.
  • The gardener. The leader cultivates others, tends to the community, and provides nourishment when needed.
  • The talk show host. The leader is a public face and works with media , leaders of other groups, and officials.
  • The diplomat. The leader builds bridges.
  • The philosopher. The leader reflects, leaders and dreams of new ways of doing things.
  • The activist. The leader speaks out, is on the ground, and facilitates public moments and events.

Whether you’re a new or established leader, building skills is an ongoing effort. Acknowledge that, make space to practice and refine skills, and set goals for leadership development. Specific skills to build might include:

  • Leading group meetings
  • Recruiting new members
  • Lobbying leaders and public officials
  • Working with partners and coalitions
  • Developing strategy for your work
  • Public speaking

About Karen Showalter

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