What is the role of leadership in a social movement? What are social movements? What is leadership? And what do they have to do with each other? Despite a lack of attention by social movement scholars, leadership plays a key role in social movements. Organizational structures that are decentralized, self-governing, and require volunteer commitment to do their work demand leadership with little or no access to means of coercive compliance. Social movement efficacy thus depends on the broad development of leadership practice. Core practices include motivating commitment, risk taking, and imagination by cultivating the experience of shared values, articulated as public narrative; building relationships to engage participants, discern common interests, and mobilize resources; creative strategizing based on inclusive, continual and recognized heuristic processes; and channeling collective resources into action based on commitment, intrinsic reward, and accountability for measurable outcomes. Understanding how social movement organizations meet this challenge – or don’t – can be of value to leaders who must learn to achieve purpose in a world of diminished hierarchy coupled with growing diversity, volatility, and dynamism. In this paper I devote particular attention to the motivational challenge, a key distinguishing feature of a social movement.
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