If you’re like me, you wake up every morning, and you might feel upset, outraged, angry, sad, or activated about 25 different issues. I definitely do. But here’s the thing: You can’t be an effective leader on 25 issues. You can’t keep up focus, intention, and action on 25 different issues. Certainly not in a sustainable long-term way.
So, ignore any guilt or pressure, internal or external, and triage your passions. What are the top one, two, at most three, issues that are the most significant to you…and to which you think you can best contribute. Apply this triage approach across your personal, political, and, yes, your professional concerns. (You may end up surprised at the intersection between those issues, and how much they probably have in common.)
What does it mean, once you’ve triaged your issues, to be a leader on them?
· It means you’re willing to do the research.
· It means that, if you really want to enact change, you’re willing to understand the obstacles to achieving the change you want to see.
· And it means you’re willing to share what you learn and know…and feel.
Your personally verified accurate information + your understanding of the larger context puts you in the position to turn on your megaphone. Help others understand. Help others act. Help others spread the word.
If you don’t already have my book, Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism and Advocacy for All (co-authored with Carolyn Gerin and Jamia Wilson), it so happens that The Riveter published our excerpt on workplace advocacy and how to enact change, along with a 2020 update added by me, in August 2020, so I recommend you check it out for step by step suggestions on how to take charge on a workplace issue specifically.
I want to make clear that I don’t believe that once you triage, you stop acting or caring about the other 23 issues that aren’t the ones you’re leading on. Not at all. But find the leaders on those issues, and let them lead you.
As an example, I care about net neutrality a lot. I think it’s very important, and I even have some background in telecom technology, so I probably have the skills to be a leader, but I’m honest with myself that it’s not in my top two or three issues. So instead I looked around and found a leader to track on this issue, in this case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org). If there’s a vote coming up that I need to contact my congressperson or local representative about, they’ll trigger me. If there’s a new proposal, and I want to get guidance on whether to support it or not, I am confident the EFF will have written about it. I let them lead on it, and I follow their lead on it.
One of the most common reasons people don’t take action is they have a feeling of overwhelm, that the problems of our world, personal, political, professional, are too big for any individual to make a difference. Let’s leave aside that history is full of examples that belie this notion, let’s focus instead on the fact that your changemaking goals should be like any other goal you regularly set and achieve in your professional life…specific, achievable, narrow…and preferably important. Once you achieve the first goal you’ve set for yourself as an Activist Leader, take the win…and revisit your triage in order to take on the next challenge.
You. Can. Do. It.