Random Acts of Leadership

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One of our newswire stories this morning was about two seventh graders who, in 2004, heard a story about a local serviceman who was being charged $7,500 for a cell phone bill resulting from calls to his family from Iraq, and decided to take action. They and their parents ran into problems with the Pentagon with their first idea, which was to send cell phones overseas, but they kept at it, resulting in the collecting and recycling of 100,000 cell phones each month, whose proceeds are passed along to pay for the cell phone minutes of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their effort has provided 150 million minutes of talk time.
This is leadership—we see something that is wrong, and we take the action needed to right it.
But taking real leadership often puts us at risk, especially when there are vested interests that oppose the changes we want to make. Many individual leaders have risked derision, arrest, and even death over the past year trying to bring an issue to the public’s attention. The collective impact of all of these acts from very dangerous to less dangerous has been to create a palpable sense of renewed civic potential.
NPQ’s next edition of its print journal is about leadership and activism as it is now manifesting in 2012. As we put the issue together and looked at how the landscape of leadership was transforming, we found some fascinating trends that possibly have to do with the changing nature of the relationships between people and institutions—government, business, and, yes, nonprofits. We looked at how people take leadership in organizations, through whistleblowing, through citizen journalism, and through participating with others in online campaigns, and we looked at changes in the assumptions of what leadership requires in a social movement setting—how shared leadership is managed and negotiated.
As we go to press with this edition, we’d love to hear your description of a particularly notable act of leadership you have witnessed in the past few years. What did it teach you? What should it teach us all?