THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

What is a community leader? Are you one?


Download this document
- Rich Text File (RTF) version - (32KB)
- Acrobat PDF version - (24KB)
If you do not have the free Acrobat reader on your computer, download it from the Adobe website by clicking here.

Next Page »

Community leaders take responsibility for the well-being and improvement of their communities. Are you a community leader? Are you interested in becoming one? Try answering the questions in this leadership quiz. Are you someone who:

  • Wants to improve your community?
  • Has something to contribute?
  • Doesn't wait around for someone else to get the job done?

If you have answered, "yes" to any of the above questions, you are most likely a community leader already, or on your way to becoming one. You don't have to become a Member of Parliament or be given a title to be a leader. All you need to do is decide to take responsibility for some corner (or bigger chunk) of your community. Community leaders are often self-appointed. Many community leaders learn by trial and error. That's not a bad way to go; people mostly learn from experience. Nonetheless, flying by the seat of your pants can be a bumpy ride. So why not get some help along the way?

Why should I be a community leader?
Why should you be a community leader? Leadership can be good for you. In fact, many people enjoy leading. You don't have to lead out of obligation. You can choose to lead and participate in ways that energise you and help you grow, instead of leading in ways that drain you. You can choose to work on issues that you care about. You can take on challenges that are fun, rewarding, or interesting. It's up to you.

Let's take a closer look at what you can gain from being a leader:

  • You can make a difference
    Do you ever daydream that you are the one to save the day? Perhaps you are the passer-by who dives into the water to rescue a drowning child. It is human to want to make a significant difference in the world.

And you can.

The day-to-day acts of community leadership are usually not as dramatic as described above, and they usually don't inspire a chorus of recognition. Still, as a community leader, you can make a profound contribution. Establishing a day care centre, increasing job opportunities in your community, getting rid of litter, or empowering others to lead are all activities that are heroic in their own way.

When Isis Johnson of New Orleans was four years old she saw a news report about starving children in Ethiopia, which made her, feel the need to act. At five, with her grandmother at her side, she went knocking on doors asking for food donations for poor people in her community. When she was six she collected 1,600 items to give to people in need. The next year, she collected 4,000 items. When Hurricane Andrew hit she collected 1,648 pieces of clothing to send to people affected by the storm. Shortly after the hurricane, Isis's grandmother suggested she start a foundation. With the help of her grandmother and a lawyer she established the Isis Johnson Foundation. Isis was then eight years old. (From Karnes and Bean, Girls and Young Women Leading the Way, 1993).

We may not all establish our own foundations by the time we are eight, but we can make a significant difference if we put our minds to it. Doing so can be infinitely satisfying.

  • You can grow
    Often, people lead because it helps them grow and expand their lives. There is almost nothing as challenging as leading groups of people. As a leader, you may need to communicate to large numbers of people, negotiate, and handle dicey situations. You will become more confident in yourself and in your world if you take action to lead others around you.

Many successful leaders started without confidence or skills. Some people that are leaders today, once had a hard time saying anything in a small group. If you are a shy person, take heart. You're not alone. You can figure out how to make your voice heard. It just takes some practice. Leadership skills are built step-by-step. No matter what your skills are right now, you can become a better leader if you work at it. You may find yourself doing things you never imagined you would!

We need many community leaders
There is room in this world for more community leaders. The model of one leader at the top with everyone else at the bottom just doesn't work for communities. One or two leaders can't possibly solve all the complex problems that our communities face. With more community leaders, our communities will do better.

The more people become leaders, the more problems we will solve. We need community leaders to think about and organise around many issues: youth development, economic growth, substance abuse, crime, the environment, health care -- the list goes on and on. Each issue will require a troop of skilled leaders to handle them. We need leaders who are women, young people (we were all young once), low -income people, people with disabilities and many others have been told that they should follow others, not lead. We need leadership from all walks of life in order for ours to be a truly democratic society.

How will all those leaders work together? Well, that is a skill that community leaders need to learn. We all have to learn to co-operate. We all need to put aside longings for turf, status, and greed in order to achieve goals that benefit everyone.

Here are some community leadership examples:

  • A citizen speaks up at the city council open meeting. Her words reveal the key issue regarding a local problem; the resulting discussion leads to a workable solution.
  • A few people in the neighbourhood successfully organise to protest public drinking.
  • A family member generates a plan to help a loved one to stop abusing alcohol, enlisting the support of other family members.
  • A young person organises a football match in a field in the neighbourhood.

When do I lead?
You can always lead. As we've said earlier, you can "lead" whether you are the designated leader or not. You can always think and act like a leader. For example, while you are sitting in a committee meeting you can think about what will help move the group forward. Does the designated leader need some encouragement? Do people need a nudge to follow through? Do you need to take an unpopular stand on an issue? People are hungry for others to help. If you take initiative to improve a situation, you will almost always delight, relieve, and surprise people.

You don't have to take over someone else's leadership role in order to help things go well. In fact, one way of helping a group function better is by supporting the official leader. You can do this by organising others to help with the work, by listening to the leader, and by encouraging the leader when she or he feels discouraged.

How do I lead?
In this section, we'll talk about what a community leader does and how to do it.

How do people learn how to lead?
Do you have to be a "born leader" in order to lead?

No. People learn how to lead. Even the people who seem to do it naturally had to learn the skills of leadership. They might have learned by watching their parents, teachers, or clergy. They might have been given a lot of responsibility when they were young and might have been expected to take charge. They might even have taken classes in "leadership development."

The point is this: If you don't feel that you are a "born" leader, don't let that stop you. You can become a leader by:

  • Jumping in and practising
  • Observing others lead
  • Finding a mentor
  • Taking a class or workshop
  • Reading books about leaders and leadership

Next Page »

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.