A leader who has vision brings to their life’s work discernment, foresight, and innovation. They understand the systemic nature of change, and the inherent messiness of change processes. They understand that change comes from ideas formed from deep knowledge and contextual understanding, not from action alone or from “products.” From their perspective, there is a narrow, guided path that must be carved through complexity, and these leaders have clarity about their direction. Social movements are inherently about change – and these leaders understand that in order to effect change, they have to do things differently. They are inherently innovative, learning from past failures and keeping an eye on future possibilities. They put together disparate elements to create new concepts and initiatives to achieve their goals. They devise new ways of thinking and have the courage to think up a new idea and act on it. They live to see the change they seek, and while cultivating fully realized lives, are wholly consumed and dedicated to this.
A leader who has empathy interacts with the reality of other people’s lives. They seek to comprehend issues through the lived realities of other people, by listening to the experiences and emotions of others, or by understanding another’s experience based on their own. (We deliberately do not define empathy as sharing another person’s feelings because of the possibility of paternalism.) A person with empathy brings to their work both solidarity and humility. They move through shared values and shared desires and work at a human level, through a deep connection to people and a commitment to shifting human systems, as opposed to data or theory or tools. There is a profound aspect to a person with empathy -- a sense of deep connection to people and community -- and an understanding that there are many political, social, cultural, economic, and emotional aspects to how a person or a community functions, where past experiences inform systemic conditions today and decisions for tomorrow.
A leader with perseverance is tenacious and steadfast in acting despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Driven by what seems limitless energy and integrity, they relentlessly pursue the change they seek. They actively learn from failure, and they invest in and emphasize creativity and learning over time to deal with the challenges of transformational change. Leaders of social transformations often also have to manage their own transformations, alongside that of their communities, in response to shifting global landscapes. They understand the evolving nature of social issues and context, and invest time and attention in seeking to adapt to their circumstances, while remaining steadfast to the set of characteristics identified within the TCL framework. They see the long game and are committed to pivoting to adapt and readapt strategies in the face of complexity and changing circumstances.
A leader who is community-centric puts the needs and interests of the community first before any one person. They build a fellowship with others, grounded in solidarity and humility, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Acting and supporting locally, they also understand global context. They work toward redistribution of power, and tilt the power equation toward the benefit of communities who are disenfranchised and most impacted by the targeted challenges. Using local knowledge for effective and strategic decision-making, they acknowledge and incorporate the advice and experiences of those most affected.
A leader who embraces risk achieves their goals by being willing to act with courage and conviction in the face of insecurity and uncertainty. These leaders cause discomfort in the status quo and aren’t afraid to disrupt or be criticized. They step into new spaces to explore opportunity and learning while confronting the possibility of setbacks every day. They are rebellious. Possessing an awareness of the potential for danger and obstacles, they forecast, evaluate, and prioritize risks, assessing processes to minimize their negative impact and communicate that to their stakeholders. They are thoughtful about the choices they make and how they involve other community members in activities, while being courageous about these choices.
A leader who collaborates builds coalitions across a fair amount of diversity, working jointly to produce, create, or act. While understanding that the work of social progress may sometimes be adversarial, they are able to rise above resource limitations and innate competition by not being territorial or competitive. They reconcile various approaches and aims held by various stakeholders, while still serving and working with affected communities. They understand that power derives from networked responses and collective action. They are interested in co-creating paths toward the empowerment of others, not for their own self-aggrandizement or fame.
A leader who mobilizes is able to gather and connect a community of actors to bring about a shared political objective. They have an understanding of the power dynamics and political contexts affecting their efforts. They are able to attract resources to support collective goals. As powerful communicators, they persuade and influence through authenticity and lived experience, and they use effective and strategic storytelling to articulate issues and possibilities for action that many can understand. They move groups of people from words to action through example, and are able to delegate activities to those who are more capable of performing. They have the ability to articulate a clear, evidence-based, compelling case to back up their conviction and vision in the face of adversity, and they can express their goals, values, vision, theories, and alternative models to outside constituencies.