We are seeing a fundamental – and fundamentally important – shift in how we think about leadership. First, we’re seeing the global rise of decentralised protest movements demanding systemic change. From Chile to Lebanon to France to the United States, we’ve seen the rise of massive movements that don’t have a single charismatic figurehead, but are truly people-powered. These are sometimes described as “leaderless”. In 2019, for example, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an influential think-tank, published a piece declaring that we were in an “Age of Leaderless Revolution”. In 2020 the New York Times published a piece with the headline “Today’s Activism: Spontaneous, Leaderless, but Not Without Aim”.
But these movements aren’t leaderless. They are, as the three women who kickstarted Black Lives Matter – Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi – have repeatedly said, “leader-full”. There isn’t one single charismatic leader at the helm dictating the direction of the movement and bossing people around, there are lots of leaders working together. These people aren’t motivated by getting their names on the front page or etching out a place in history, they’re interested in creating a more equitable future.
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