Our Communications Co-ordinator JAKE LLOYD has been compiling wisdom from around our network and beyond, to try and find out what it takes to be a good community leader. Here's what he's discovered.
Are you a leader? Until I joined Arukah Network, I’d never asked myself this question. But increasingly, I think we could all benefit from asking it of ourselves. After all, we’re probably all leaders in one way or another – whether at home, in the community or at work. And when we start to consider who, why, and how we lead, I think we can start to become more sensitive to the ways in which we impact the lives of those around us on a daily basis.
Both inside and outside of our network, I’ve asked a lot of leaders in a lot of communities about how they lead. From the Mediterranean coastline of Gaza to the Himalayan foothills of India, and from rural Zambia to urban Sierra Leone. These places are very different, but the people I’ve interviewed have a lot in common, and their answers have taught me a lot about what makes a good leader. I thought it was about time I gathered together this wisdom and put it in one place. And so here it is – four qualities that seem to be crucial to being a good community leader.
1. Make Sure You Believe In What You Do
The Gaza Strip is a difficult place to live: it’s one of the most densely populated places on earth, its people are isolated by a strictly-controlled blockade, and it’s seen three military conflicts in the last ten years. This situation has created complex and severe mental health problems among its population. And these are problems that friend of Arukah Network, Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei, spends his life seeking to address, as a Clinical Psychiatrist and Director at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. In our recent podcast interview, he told me how community leadership in this situation brings with it all sorts of challenges and stresses, and that from this he has learnt that to be a good leader you have to believe that the work you are doing is right and just. This belief brings with it the strength to persevere in difficult circumstances, and the will to succeed despite these challenges.
2. Build A Support Team Around You
Kenya’s Kericho County has a high number of street children, and high rates of teenage pregnancy too. Both of these things are a point of focus for members of the Kericho Cluster, many of whom support and mentor young people. Robins is one of them: he’s the Cluster Mobiliser as well as a Youth Leader. In a podcast interview earlier this year, when I asked him what he finds hard about being a community leader, he likened it to being a doormat: sometimes people deposit their difficulties and problems on him, and he absorbs them. This sounded painful, and so I asked him how he stays strong in this role. There was no hesitation in his answer: one of his key sources of strength is the supportive team with which he surrounds himself in the Cluster. These people have his best interests at heart, and the best interests of the Cluster at heart too. When things are tough, he knows he can turn to them for love and support.
3. Listen To Those You Lead
Rural Zambia, like most places in the world, is a place where men tend to dominate positions of leadership. And yet Mutinta – a young, female health worker – is a respected leader within the ‘Chabbs’ Cluster (in Gwembe District) where she leads their youth work. I asked one Cluster Member about her, and he told me that “when she speaks, no one can stop her. Not because she’s forceful, but because everyone agrees with her." In other words, Mutinta speaks with authority. When I asked her about being a leader, it became clear that this authority comes in large part because she has invested so much time with local youth, listening to them. From this she understands the challenges they face and the opportunities they want to see, and from this comes her authority, both in the eyes of the Cluster, and the young people whom she represents.
4. Adopt A Servant Mindset / Be Humble
Both Adbein (our National Facilitator in Sierra Leone) and Raj (our Cluster Mobiliser in Uttarakhand) have told me something similar on the subject of leadership. Firsty, Adbein believes that being a leader and a servant should be seen as the same thing. He’s seen the consequences of political leaders and development agencies in his county who don’t always act fully in service of the people of Sierra Leone, and the harm that that can have. He thinks that a shift in mindset towards servant leadership could fundamentally change the country for the better. And secondly, Raj from the Uttarakhand Cluster told me about the key to the Cluster’s continued success: “it is leadership: our leaders here are humble, they relate to all people, they make people comfortable, and this holds the Cluster together. It makes all Cluster members feel they are part of what we do: that they are not just an invitee, but they feel they have a role, they feel that they are given importance… It keeps us moving.”
I have found all of this wisdom useful, but what about you? Is there anything missing here? Let me know, and we can accumulate even more wisdom on the subject!
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