Social Change Leadership Practices

Leaders of social change organizations (SCOs) see abundant possibility in environments where people operate on the margins of power structures. Research from several Wagner leadership programs and initiatives shows SCOs to be driven by dissatisfaction with systemic inequity and guided by values like inclusion, solidarity, democracy and transparency. SCOs work with resourceful and purposeful action, propelled to enact their visions of a more just world.

A major contribution of Wagner's research to the leadership field has been illuminating three sets of leadership practices:

  • reframing discourse,
  • bridging difference, and
  • unleashing human energies.

These practices are used by community-based nonprofits to build leadership capital and create social change. While often overlooked in leadership studies, social change nonprofits represent a rich and essential resource for civil society in serving as bellwethers for the field and reforming broken systems and structures. These efforts, toward the common good, reflect the human spirit at its best and their leadership is essential for a strong democracy.

Bridging Difference

Leadership practices that bridge difference involve connecting different worlds and worldviews to open new avenues for alliance building and collaboration. Bridging may involve coordinating the efforts and resources of communities facing similar challenges or combining sources of capital that offer a strategic edge in addressing the issue at hand.

Unleashing Human Energies

Leadership practices that unleash human energies create conditions that allow members of groups to recover their humanity, while recognizing the power to direct their lives and strengthening their capacity to do so, in the process.

Unleashing entails unlocking and developing human potential at the service of individual, organizational and inter-organizational capacity. Those involved already come with an expertise derived from encountering the targeted problem in their everyday lives. This knowledge can be strengthened and used to fill these gaps within this mastery.