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When “The Basics” Become Revolutionary for Social Change

By Amy Celep

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of attending and speaking at three conferences: the Texas Nonprofit Summit, the KaBOOM! Playful City USA Summit, and Independent Sector. Across these convenings, two particular observations stuck in my mind:

1. “The Basics” Can Be Revolutionary

“THAT ROCKED MY WORLD!” is the feedback I received from one leader who approached me after participating in a conversation around our ten insights on social transformation. Right behind her came another leader who commented on how interesting it was that so many of our insights go back to “the basics:”

  • Asking the simple but critical question, “What does success look like?”
  • Honing the skill set necessary to productively collaborate with others
  • Remembering to use communication as part of the strategic toolbox

I think both leaders were right. Our list of insights reflect “the basics” of effective organizational management in a complex, uncertain environment. But these fundamentals, executed with rigor and pointing to bold goals, can have immense power for leaders, organizations and their communities. I’ve seen this through our partnerships with change agents ready to take on social problems at the magnitude they exist. “The basics” can be revolutionary and can be the difference between incremental and transformational change.

2. It Takes Leadership to Extract Revolutionary Results from “The Basics”

At the Independent Sector conference, the recipient of the annual John W. Gardner Leadership Award, was a woman who will forever be etched in my mind: Connie Rice. Connie is a civil rights attorney and activist in Los Angeles. She has been an instrumental force in transforming the Los Angeles Police Department — which had become known for brutality and corruption — and for making progress on the rampant issue of gangs in LA. She’s partnered in this work with Bill Bratton, who played a key role in reducing crime in NYC in the ’90s and who we spoke with during our transformation research.

Here is Connie’s leadership advice in simple terms:

  • Don’t let your environment or others force you into a state of powerlessness. Take the power.
  • Give credit to others.
  • Don’t forget it’s about capturing hearts and minds to move people.
  • If there is a perceived enemy, be with them. Suspend your contempt and fear of them, get into their mindset, and understand things from their perspective.

I would encourage you to listen directly to Connie sharing her story and her words of battle-worn leadership wisdom.

Some of these same sentiments were repeated by Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, who shared his three rules of leadership: 1) Use the language of love; 2) Do something (His point is you can’t be a leader if you haven’t done anything!); 3) Take no credit. Similarly, Kenneth Chenault (CEO, American Express) shared his perspective: “The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope.”

These diverse leaders — an activist, a minister, and a Fortune 50 CEO — together painted strong leaders as those who demonstrate deep empathy, share leadership with others, set inspiring vision, and execute. These characteristics certainly mirror those of the change agents we have studied and with whom we work, all of whom are taking “the basics” and realizing significant and sustained social impact.

I step away from these conferences excited to continue building partnerships with such leaders, and helping them wring social transformation from “the basics.”

Amy Celep

About Amy Celep

As CEO of Community Wealth Partners, Amy Celep guides the organization’s strategic direction and oversees its more than 20 employees in their efforts to support partners in solving problems at the magnitude they exist. Amy was named to this role in April 2010, and since then has led the organization in developing and implementing a new strategy for greater impact, while achieving 50 percent revenue growth and securing a marquee list of partners. See Amy's full bio

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