Tectonica’s New Series: Leadership in Social Change

Our new series will take a look at essential readings on the role of leadership within social movements, exploring the challenges and opportunities in nurturing transformative leadership, and offering insights into cultivating our own leadership qualities in our efforts towards social change.


The Need for Impactful Leadership in Progressive Change

In our daily work towards social and political change, the concept of leadership often takes centre stage. We talk about the importance of leaders in social movements because leaders are a significant key to change, and often exemplify the profound impact that visionary and principled guidance can have on the world. Leadership is also at the core of what movements are - groups of people working together, setting priorities, and executing plans to achieve outcomes together. However, the truth is that leadership is difficult and it's easy to feel a misalignment with a lot of the literature out there, which tends to be geared towards a more corporate idea of what a leader should be. 

This challenge is compounded by a conspicuous gap in available practical guidance on how to grow as a leader, particularly for those of us from marginalised backgrounds who possess the essential relationships and lived experiences to represent the communities we advocate for in our justice movements. What we aim to provide in this series, considering the dearth of how-to material on leadership, is material that can actually help leaders from marginalised identities and histories gain knowledge that will help them as they grow into leadership.

What we observe is that often the material that is available on leadership is produced for business interests and not for us. These works prioritise profit models over system-challenging initiatives. This perception is typically encapsulated by the American business archetype of a man at the helm exerting control over others through power. While sometimes there are relevant insights to be found, this perspective often misses the mark for progressive movement leaders, which seek change through collective action, grassroots organising, and building power with communities to advocate for essential rights and needs.

The myopic idea of leadership as an individualistic, top-down arrangement is an American-centric corporate, patriarchal concept that rarely serves our movements. This isn’t an appeal against hierarchies or to examine power. That is a separate topic - and also an important one for progressive efforts. Rather it's an appeal to recognise the value, need, and presence of leadership in different roles - from the personal, to the family, the community, and across teams of peers. Simply put, leadership skills within movements are not confined to titles but potentially present in anyone's ability to guide and support collective progress towards common objectives. These qualities are ultimately essential in building successful movements. 

Unfortunately, those of us from marginalised communities often face significant barriers in this realm, with less opportunity to see examples of good leadership in action due to the lack of visible representation of leaders outside the hegemony. For women, queer people, BIPOC, people with disabilities, people with trauma, and other groups, it can cause significant suffering to be thrust into leadership roles without the needed support, capacitation and information on how to lead. This is often intensified by societal signals that discourage the taking up of space. We typically lack the power, resources, and advanced knowledge that people with experiences and advantages of privilege possess, making it even more challenging to manifest our full leadership potential. 

At the same time, those of us who have lived through oppression, trauma, and the absence of positive leadership models, embody the very essence of the leaders we most need today. At Tectonica, one of our official values is that our experiences outside societal privilege is our power. Our unique perspectives and resilience are invaluable in creating a world that isn't solely shaped by the narrow viewpoints of privilege but is instead enriched by a diversity of voices and experiences, and acknowledges that justice will only be won by those who come from communities impacted by injustice. We need leaders who live outside the typical hegemony, and reflect the diverse and rich fabric of our societies.

Here at Tectonica we feel it's time to demystify the path to becoming leaders in social change and to acknowledge that there are clear strategies to nurture and develop leadership capabilities. There are several books and articles written that highlight a different path, one that focuses on transformational relationships, inspiring others from any position of power, recognising the importance of semantics and effective communication in leading others, and showing that leadership can be less about exerting control and more about supporting through connection and vulnerability. 

This is not to say that a book can single-handedly make a good leader. We believe strongly that leaders reach their full potential through experiential learning. However, over the coming weeks, we want to highlight some key pieces of reading that, in conjunction with experience, can illuminate meaning behind the journey, and provide a solid foundation for leaders to emerge at every level in our progressive movements. Through these resources, we hope aspiring leaders can gain insights into how to navigate the complexities of social change, build inclusive and supportive communities, and foster the kind of leadership that can truly create change.

Key Components of Leadership

Leadership in social change is not just about ascending to positions of power or being at the forefront of movements. It's a deeply personal journey that involves constant self-reflection and engagement with the world around us. It challenges us to confront our inner realities and how they mirror in the responses we elicit from those we interact with. Leadership is not always a delightful journey; it takes bravery and a willingness to make mistakes. It also involves managing the inevitable stress of having people’s judgments, expectations and anger projected at you. Leadership is often spoken about in terms of increasing one’s power, but in reality, true leadership growth is a continual process of confronting our own egos, seeing our own weaknesses, and being open to growing as humans. This series is about transforming our approach to leadership from the traditional patriarchal model to a more inclusive, collaborative, and empathetic work - viewing how leadership and its growth is relevant to all of us. 

The importance of leadership in achieving transformational social change cannot be overstated. Key components critical to effective leadership include:

  • Building relationships that enable connection, navigate conflict, and inspire others.
  • Envisioning change that reflects a deep understanding of the issues at hand and a commitment to addressing them.
  • Courage to stand up against established norms and organize change  for a more fair society.

These key components of leadership are ever more challenging to cultivate in an era increasingly dominated by online communication. This shift has led to widespread apathy, an alarming exposure to misinformation, and difficulties in establishing the kind of deep, meaningful relationships that have sustained successful movements in the past. The rise of artificial intelligence adds a further layer of complexity, as its use in political and movement messaging can reinforce societal biases and stifle the unique language and expressions of movements. AI has the potential to homogenise the diverse array of voices and perspectives that are essential for driving meaningful social change but can never replace real human leadership (more on that here). Our digital age, while offering unprecedented opportunities for spreading messages and rallying support, also presents significant obstacles to building the authentic connections and grassroots momentum that have historically underpinned transformative social movements.

Closing Thoughts & An Invitation to Share

In light of this evolving context, our forthcoming series seeks to bridge the gap in leadership literature by focusing on books and resources that offer practical advice and guidance, especially for those outside the conventional circles of power. From exploring traditional works deeply rooted in social change to innovative methods in somatic and feminist leadership, we aim to provide a comprehensive guide that supports emerging leaders on their journey.

This series is not just about presenting resources; it's an invitation to engage, to share experiences, and to contribute to a growing body of knowledge that challenges and expands our understanding of leadership in the context of progressive movements. If you have encountered works or ideas that have shaped your perspective on leadership, we encourage you to share them with us. Together, we aim to build a collection of wisdom that not only illuminates the path to effective leadership but also celebrates the diversity of experiences and approaches that enrich our movements.

As we share these works in the coming months, let us remember that leadership is not a destination but a continuous process of growth, learning, and adaptation. It's about finding strength in vulnerability, wisdom in reflection, and the power of group collaboration. We look forward to sharing more in the coming weeks as we explore the nuances of leadership in social change, and inspire each other to become the leaders our world so desperately needs.



Book Reviews

"How to Hold Power" by Pavini Moray, PhD

Here we explore Pavini Moray, PhD's insights on somatic leadership. Highlighting body-based practices, Moray teaches that true leadership stems from how one embodies their role, influencing others through presence rather than position. The guide offers practical advice on managing trauma, establishing boundaries, practicing consent, listening effectively, and navigating conflict, presenting leadership as a deeply personal and impactful practice.