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Movements and the Leadership Thread: Facebook Groups Leader Jennifer Dulski on What Makes a Movement
Tuesday, April 16, 2019

“Movements begin with one person, taking one step,” was perhaps the most inspiring line of Jennifer Dulski’s keynote speech of the LMA Annual  2019 Conference.  Dulksi, best-selling author of Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Starter?; rooted her talk in her experience as leader of Facebook Groups; the incubator for many social movements from parenting to disaster response.  Before working at Facebook, she was the COO of Change.org, an early Yahoo! Employee and the CEO of Dealmap, an app Google eventually bought making Dulski the first female entrepreneur to sell a company to Google.  Dulski’s presentation dissected the elements and leadership needed to create movements, putting those ideas into context with powerful examples that are instantly recognizable.  Dulski’s self-deprecating, approachable and inspiring presentation reminded us that we can all start a movement.

The Leadership Thread and Starting Movements

Dulski points out that “All movements start with small actions made by individual people.”  When put that way, it all seems very possible, that these grandiose changes that impact our world all begin fundamentally, with one person taking one small action.  Dulski’s keynote continued in that vein, as she broke down the components of successful movements into what she called The Leadership Thread, suffusing her points with optimism and anecdotes of real-world examples, showing how this framework fits with some recent grassroots movements.

Courage to Get Started

The Leadership thread begins with garnering the courage to get started.  While it’s one thing to point out movements begin with a single step, it would be a disservice to ignore how difficult it can be to take that first step.  That’s where leaders begin—with finding the courage to start. And Dulski Shared her personal acronym for when she is scared—the idea that gives her the courage to ride her bike through Delhi or take on any of the many challenges that come her way.  She says IICDICDA; or: If I Can Do This I Can do Anything.  This is the kind of thinking that got her through a team building bike ride in Old Delhi with only one cow-related injury—and importantly, acknowledging that fear is normal and inevitable, and being brave isn’t about not feeling fear—it’s about overcoming that fear, and doing things you might not do otherwise.

Clear and Compelling Vision

After finding the courage to start, movement starters create a clear and compelling vision—with an articulated desired future, a clear purpose, and a compelling story.  Humans need inspiration, and so often, that inspiration comes in the form of a story. By distilling your vision into a clear story you can reach others, and giving them a story gives them something to understand.  A story illustrates your vision and makes it something to pick up and carry—allowing others to join in on the load.

Mobilize Others and Encourage Early Adopters

The next step is mobilizing others around that vision.  If others are moved by your story and can see the vision you see, make sure they have the tools and understanding to work beside you.  This means embracing the early adopters.  Empower those who embrace your vision by giving them jobs, responsibilities, and encouragement.  Make them the moderators of a facebook group, and let them share the load.  Giving people meaningful responsibilities in the movement inspires ownership, and the more invested people feel the more they will give.

Persuade Decision Makers

However, some people’s opinion can be the knife’s edge between success and failure—so finding ways to persuade decision-makers can be crucial for realizing success.  This can be as simple as making it easy for the decision maker to say yes—finding what will persuade that individual and putting what they need—hard data, a story, in front of him or her.  In many instances this can involve a variety of tools, so creating a toolkit of available options is an important starting point.  Build a coalition of the willing with a variety of talent at their disposal, and use each tool where appropriate.  One tool Dulski discussed is power mapping or influence mapping—basically, figuring out who influences the people you need to influence, and then influencing them.

Navigate Criticism

Reminding the audience of a Jeff Bezos quote: “If you absolutely can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.” Dulski points out that any movement needs to learn to navigate criticism.  One map to that is to understand criticism as helpful information—and figure out what just needs to be managed. Dulski outlined additional strategies for handling criticism, including the bear hug, and leveraging the naysayers.

One strategy for pernicious critics is to wrap them in a bear hug—engage the critic to ask why they feel so strongly, and what can you do about it?  Offering to address their concerns in an honest and meaningful way shows a willingness to listen can be disarming. Many critics, when given the opportunity to air their grievances and most importantly, feel heard, will stop the sort of toxic criticism that can be so harmful to movements.

Another way to empower your critics and help accomplish your goals is to leverage the naysayers; this involves embracing the criticism and asking the critic to use his or her expertise to help improve the process. Again, allowing the critic to be heard, and asking for his or her contributions can neutralize the more negative aspect, bringing them to your side as you work together to make improvements.

Overcome Obstacles

Finally, any movement will hit obstacles along the way.  Finding a way to clear the obstacles is important for any movement, and problems—even crisis, is to be expected. Dulski discussed the four kinds of crisis responders, and how a mix of these personality types in response to a crisis is important to weather the storm. The big takeaway, though-is that obstacles are inevitable, and moving forward with your goals is the most important part.  The good news is that if you keep moving up over and under, whatever it takes, you will get through the tough times.

In understanding how people respond to crisis, Dulski offered a helpful categorization tool and discussed the four types of crisis responders.  The first are firefighters—who want to run into the thick of the problem and solve it; addressing any and all issues right away.  Another response are the Fire Inspectors, who want to understand why the problem happened and make sure it never ever happens again.  Both approaches are helpful, and a mix of both on your team is ideal.  Along the same vein, there are the EMTs, who look to the people affected by the crisis and come in, armed with food and concern, ready to focus on the individuals affected and taking care of them.  And finally, there are the Doomsayers, who see crisis as a sign of doom, and are always seeing a new crisis on the horizon.  There are elements of this kind of crisis response in all of us, and making sure the response balances these elements keeps movements on track.

Taking the First Step

Movements are a lot of work--and sometimes you might question whether or not that work is worth it.  Dulski points out that your work will matter, maybe in ways you don’t expect, but it will still matter to someone down the line.  Dulski left the audience with a sense that our actions are not only powerful but can have an impact beyond our wildest expectations.

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