Listen, Organize, Act! Organizing & Democratic Politics

S1.E5: Leadership, But Not As You Know It

March 16, 2021 Season 1 Episode 5
Listen, Organize, Act! Organizing & Democratic Politics
S1.E5: Leadership, But Not As You Know It
Show Notes

This episode discusses the nature and purpose of leadership in organizing, how it is defined and understood, who are leaders, the difference between leaders and organizers, and what their respective roles are in the shared work of organizing. The understanding and practice of leadership in organizing is very different to that put forward in most leadership training programs, institutes, and business schools. It is counter cultural and embodies a deep wisdom about leadership that can be applied in many if not most institutional settings, particularly in congregational ones.


Elizabeth Valdez has nearly 40 years of organizing experience. Having begun her work as an organizer in El Paso on the US-Mexico border, she has since organized in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, and now Houston where she is the lead organizer of The Metropolitan Organization, the IAF affiliate there. She is a senior organizer with the West/SouthWest IAF and has pioneered work to address infrastructure, employment, housing, and medical needs in the region.

Bishop Douglas Miles has over 50 years of experience combining congregational ministry with leadership in addressing community needs of one kind or another.  This work began with setting up the first homeless shelter with accommodations for women and their children in Baltimore in the early 1970s and has continued on with innovative initiatives to address addiction, educational needs, and starting an alternative juvenile sentencing program. He co-founded Baltimore’s Interfaith Alliance and was a key leader in the development of BUILD, the IAF affiliate in Baltimore, of which he has twice been its Co-Chair.  And as a leader, he has trained many organizers. In his day job, he has built up and pastored large and thriving churches in Baltimore and Memphis.

Resources for Going Deeper

Jeffrey Stout, “The Authority to Lead,” Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), Chapter 8;

Noelle McAfee, “Relationship and Power: An Interview with Ernesto Cortes, Jr. (1993),” in People Power: The Community Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky, eds. Aaron Schutz and Mike Miller (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2015), 226-234;

Marshall Ganz, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Workers Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), see especially pp. 3-21;

Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos, “Developing Leaders from All Walks of Life,” Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community (San Francisco: John Wiley & Son, 2007), Chapter Five. Includes an overview of leadership styles, a case study of developing a leader, and worksheets for organizers to use when training and developing leaders.