From India’s most remote forests to New York’s high-rises, fifteen years of experience have convinced me that the most successful social innovators instinctively construct networks as their organizational strategy.
These successful innovators have shown that today’s complex challenges require a new type of leader: the networked leader. At Context Partners we’re fostering networked leadership in fields ranging from urban resilience to healthcare, across sectors from philanthropic to the Fortune 500.
As we explore how this emergent leadership organizes, motivates and achieves systemic change, we’ve invited Brook Manville, a friend of Context Partners, to join the conversation. Brook is a Washington, D.C.-based independent consultant who works with a range of mission-oriented organizations; he is also writing a book about leadership in the network age.
We invite you into the conversation as well, so please share the piece and let us know where you’re seeing this new type of leader and how they are creating change. – Charlie
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Trabian Shorters and the BMe community
By Brook Manville, guest contributor
Trabian Shorters, the founder of the BMe Community, is a vibrant example of a network leader. Trabian, who helped found AmeriCorps, built a pioneering non-profit technology network and led programs at the Ashoka social entrepreneurs network and the Knight Foundation, launched the BMe network in 2011. With a mission of “building caring and prosperous communities inspired by black men,” BMe is now creating change in cities across America. Their strategy is to build a network of exemplary male black leaders, who devote their time to—and tell their stories about—helping others in schools, businesses and neighborhoods nationwide. BMe pursues a classic “network effect”: as more people embrace the philosophy and work of these inspiring leaders, the collective momentum accelerates. Each success story pulls in more black men, and with them many other similarly committed people (of all races, backgrounds and genders), widening a population of role models pursuing good work that transforms local communities.
Trabian himself doesn’t lead from the front, but rather from within the network. His work is not about control or giving orders, nor is it transactional or geared to his personal goals. Instead, it’s about finding, facilitating and providing opportunities for committed contributors; fostering relationships among the members to shape the network; and building a critical mass of learning and motivation.
Trabian’s quiet leadership begins with a disciplined point of view: as long as the network attracts exemplary leaders as core members, its growth and momentum will continue to build. Trabian understands that the power of a network comes from leaders who inspire and bring other leaders “out of the shadows” too. As the founder, Trabian ensures that the BMe selection process identifies and offers opportunities to leaders with that capacity and worldview.
The strategy becomes even clearer when Trabian explains how the network raises up these critical BMe exemplars: “We look for leaders who live by three fundamental principles, and we emphasize those in how we work with them,” he says. “It’s a model that can work for any transformation based on this kind of multiplier effect.“
“First, we seek leaders who deeply believe that people are never broken—but are rather assets. BMe leaders aren’t ‘fixers’, righting wrongs or just preaching survival. They’re builders, seeing people of all backgrounds and ethnicities—and themselves—as constructive contributors based on whatever good they’ve done. And these leaders bring this asset orientation to all their work, believing it is the most effective way for our increasingly diverse nation to become caring and prosperous.”
“Second, we want leaders with personal gravity. Their personal stories must be authentic and attract people, and be literally remarkable: worthy of notice, catalyzing others to take action themselves because they admire what these leaders are doing.”
“Third, a network of change needs leaders who understand that people learn by observation and participation. Great BMe leaders don’t argue a point of view—they just do it, show it and live their story. They encourage others to join and learn by doing too.”
Shaka Senghor is living the BMe vision
Shaka Senghor, now the BMe Community’s national representative, embodies the above three principles. A former convict, Shaka went from being a “community problem” to being an asset, a leader committed to broader social good. With the help of mentors and a journey of “acknowledgment, apology and atonement,” he developed a love of literature and storytelling. He is now devoting his life to helping other troubled black males transform, urging them to become leaders in bettering their own communities.
Shaka’s asset orientation, “personal gravity” and beliefs about change are all visible in his own remarkable story—as millions can attest who have viewed his TED talk.
Encouraging others via his own experience, he mentors boys and former convicts in violent neighborhoods, and fosters community development nationwide. His broader educational platform of books, lectures and academic programs is further helping other troubled black men become peaceful, constructive citizens.
You can read more about Trabian, Shaka and other inspired black men affiliated with the BMe community in their new book Reach: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading and Succeeding. The 100 men BMe has funded directly serve more than 200,000 people per year.