Purpose and Power

Best-selling author Dan Goleman shares what business leaders can learn from community organizers.

Daniel Goleman is author of the international best-seller Emotional Intelligence and of the forthcoming Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

Marshall Ganz, a celebrated senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, defines leadership as “accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty.” Ganz, who cut his teeth as an organizer in the Civil Rights Movement, says organizing is a distinct form of leadership that “enables people to turn the resources they have into the power they need to make the change they want.”

According to Ganz and his colleagues, organizing has five key leadership practices:

  • Telling Stories: Articulating a story of why we are called to lead, the community we seek to mobilize, and why we are compelled to act.
  • Building Relationships: Creating and growing networks of relationships that fuel collective action.
  • Structuring Teams: Creating a structure that distributes responsibility among a diverse group of stakeholders.
  • Strategizing: Collecting resources and turning them into the tools needed to achieve a clear set of goals.
  • Acting: Translating all of this into actions that motivate individuals and groups as they aim to be as effective as possible.

It’s perhaps surprising how this applies to business leadership. These points mirror what purpose-driven leaders do in more traditional organizations: The first three practices build the power needed to produce movement on something that matters, and the last two utilize that power in order to urge on a meaningful change or vision.

For organizers, power is not viewed as a trait that follows a single person or position. Instead, it’s described as the influence that is built when individuals, networks, and organizations come together and commit to an exchange of interests and resources.  

This is something purpose-driven leaders can look to in their own work: not just how they assume a sense of power within their own role, but how they can build power among networks of potential collaborators in order to push for something beyond traditional metrics of success.

Meanwhile, Ganz has often said that organizing, this practice of gathering groups of people together to advocate for a shared purpose, is rooted in three age-old questions:

If I am not for myself, who am I?

When I am only for myself, what am I?

And if not now, when?

These might be the same questions the purpose-driven leader or organization will want to ask themselves. 

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.