Bill Mckibben recently published this blog post on 350.org titled “Movements without leaders.” McKibben is one of my personal idols, and his work has inspired me since I was a Freshwoman in high school. However, I disagree with his framing of movements and leadership.
Bill describes a shift from hierarchical leadership to distributed and specialized leadership. I agree with this wholeheartedly because the scale of the problem is such that we need leadership in every community and because our interconnected world enables us to share knowledge and leverage networks.
it’s wrong to call this a “leaderless” movement. This is not a movement without leaders, and Bill’s framing is misleading. This is a new kind of leadership–a distributed leadership that represents a global innovation.
We need to understand more deeply how we enable and nurture this emerging phenomenon and how organizations like 350 can do the same. There are decades of research on the old kind of hierarchical leadership, but few have explored this new kind. The better that we get at understanding the praxis of this leadership, the more effective we can be in building a mass movement. 350.org has the potential to be a pioneer in this effort and share their learning with other organizations. This could be a vital part of their legacy.