Friday, July 20, 2012

revolutionary leadership

Two of the books I read over my vacation and Summer Reading Feast included biographies (LARGE biographies!) of Che Guevara and Malcolm X.  Since both of these men were assassinated prior to my 10th birthday, I missed all of the action and rhetoric that took place during their lifetimes - and for the most part was shielded from them and their accomplishments growing up (remember the days when communism = evil?).  I told someone this past week that I would have had the grand triumvirate if I had read the biography of Mao as well.  What struck me about both Che and Malcolm X is that they were considered revolutionaries...the same word that was used for the founding fathers of the United States of America.  And yet, my history books would never have put John Adams and George Washington in the same sentence as Che Guevara and Malcolm X.

Politics aside, I was struck by the way revolutionary leaders mobilize people and make things happen.  What would it mean for you and me to be a revolutionary leader?  Here are a few principles I gained about leadership - revolutionary leadership - as I read these biographies:

  • revolutionary leaders are committed to a cause.  They see the need for change and work to make it happen.  Che was willing to join Fidel Castro in in the fight for liberation of Cuba - but his vision went much farther than one country.  He worked in both Africa and Bolivia to bring about change.
  • revolutionary leaders act from an inner sense of mission.  Both Che and  Malcolm did a lot of soul searching to understand what was important to them and WHY they were doing what they did.  Whether it was a long motorcycle journey or time spent in prison, they did the necessary INNER WORK to prepare them for their callings.
  • revolutionary leaders are articulate.  Malcolm X was a great speaker, and was able to articulate his message in a away that drew others to the cause.  Taking the time to craft the right message, and then learning to deliver it in a powerful manner are both an important part of using the voice as a tool of influence.
  • revolutionary leaders mobilize others.  A revolution does not happen if it only involves a few people.  Bringing others on board, organizing them, and deploying them into action were all techniques that allowed both Che and Malcolm to accomplish what they set out to do.  These leaders thought and acted strategically, engaging others in the process.
  • revolutionary leaders never worry about time spent on the cause.  Both Che and Malcolm suffered physically because of the time they spent doing their work.  There are no 8 hour work days for this type of leader - whether it is writing, speaking, organizing, traveling, or meeting with others, they use as many hours of the day they can to accomplish their mission.
  • revolutionary leaders are seen as a threat by others.  The mere word "revolutionary" strikes fear into most people's hearts, because it means deep change.  When leaders articulate a vision that challenges the status quo, others begin to see them as a threat and actively work to stop them.  Both Che and Malcolm X had multiple enemies (often from within their own organizations) and were fearful for their lives much of the time.
  • revolutionary leaders are willing to put their lives on the line for a cause.  It might have been easy for either Che or Malcolm to go into hiding once they knew they were being hunted, and yet they both moved forward in their causes to the point of an early and tragic death.  While one's mission may not lead them to this point, given other circumstances how many leaders would be willing to press forward knowing their actions might cause their death?
Whether one believes that Che Guevara or Malcolm X are truly great leaders or not, it is hard to deny that they exemplified the aspects of what leaders do best - they had a vision they believed in; they articulated that vision among others; they drew people to a common cause; they acted in a manner to bring that vision about; and they were not afraid to make things happen even when times got tough.  What cause would it take for you - or me - to become a revolutionary leader?  And where throughout the world today do we need more revolutionary leaders to enact positive change?

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