We Can All Be Movement Starters: The Leadership Thread and Making Movements Happen

Eilene Spear of the National Law Review, shares LMA Annual Conference 2019 Keynote Speaker Jennifer Dulski's thoughts on what it takes to become a movement maker. 


Jennifer Dulski, author of "Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Starter?," was the keynote speaker at the LMA Annual Conference 2019 in Atlanta, dissecting the anatomy of successful social movements.

“All movements start with small actions made by individual people.” When put that way, it all seems very possible, that these grandiose changes that impact our world begins with one person taking one step. Dulski’s keynote continued in that vein, as she broke down the components of successful movements into The Leadership Thread.

The Leadership thread begins with garnering the courage to get started. While it’s one thing to point out movements begin with a single step, it would be a disservice to ignore how difficult it can be to take that first step. That’s where leaders begin— with finding the courage to start.

After finding the courage to start, movement starters create a clear and compelling vision — with an articulated desired future, a clear purpose, and a compelling story. Humans need inspiration, and so often, that inspiration comes in the form of a story. By distilling your vision into a clear story you can reach others, and giving them a story gives them something to understand.

The next step is mobilizing others around that vision. If others are moved by your story and can see the vision you see, make sure they have the tools and understanding to work beside you. This means embracing the early adopters. Empower those who embrace your vision by giving them jobs, responsibilities and encouragement. Giving people meaningful responsibilities in the movement inspires ownership, and the more invested people feel the more they will give.

However, some people are in positions to be decision-makers — and those opinions can be the knife’s edge between success and failure. Finding ways to persuade decision-makers can be crucial. This can be as simple as making it easy for the decision maker to say yes — finding what will persuade that individual and putting what they need—hard data, a story, whatever information needed to move the needle. In many instances this can involve a variety of tools, so creating a toolkit of available options is an important starting point. One tool Dulski discussed is power mapping or influence mapping — figuring out who influences the people you need to influence, and then influencing them.

Reminding the audience of a Jeff Bezos quote: “If you absolutely can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.” Dulski points out that any movement needs to learn to navigate criticism. One map to that is to understand criticism as helpful information — and figure out what just needs to be managed. One strategy for pernicious critics is to wrap them in a bear hug — engage the critic to ask why they feel so strongly, and what can you do about it? Offering to address their issues, and showing a willingness to listen can be a very effective strategy to neutralize criticism that can feel toxic.

Any movement will hit obstacles along the way-and problems, even a crisis is to be expected. Making sure the inevitable obstacles are cleared are integral to forward movement progress. But with overcoming obstacles, sometimes the important piece is to just keep moving forward — and keep climbing towards your goal.

The clouds will come, but they will clear. If you are with a group you like working with and if you keep moving forward, you will end up accomplishing your goals.

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