Wow Darrel Ray is brilliant. He nails it on “First generation leadership.” Because of my type-a personality and my inability to trust easily I was unable to spot future dedicated activists when they aligned with me early in their activist “careers.” Ashley Paramore and Shelley Mountjoy were by my side at the beginning. If I could have known to expand their leadership role early enough, they might have never needed to go become superstars elsewhere.
Check this article out if you would like to learn more about how atheist groups function, and how we can improve them.
Two Types of Leadership in the Secular Movement
Leadership among secular groups tends to come in two general flavors, those that are led by one or a few charismatic leaders (often the founders) and those that are led by a less centralized executive group. There is plenty of room for both types of groups in the movement, but it is important to be conscious and intentional in understanding and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of both. For purposes of discussion, we will call these groups “first generation” and “second generation,” respectively, although they may not always fit that classification.
First-generation groups are often led by charismatic leaders. These are lean and activist groups. The founders have a sharp vision for what they want to accomplish and move fast to get the job done. They are often the leading edge of the movement and have influence out of proportion to their numbers both within the movement and in the larger society. Their strengths are invaluable because they are pacesetters, influencing the overall direction of the movement.
Despite their major strengths, it is also important to understand the weaknesses of first generation leaders. They are often an insular group and less democratic. Since first-generation leaders are generally autocratic, they tend to attract members who respond to strong, direct leadership. This limits membership, since only a fraction of the target population responds to this type of leadership.
Challenges to their leadership or vision are not welcome. It may be easy to join one of these groups but hard, if not impossible, to gain a position of influence. For this reason, the leaders have difficulty grooming the next generation. Upcoming, promising new leaders often see no opportunity to take part in the core functions of the organization and, therefore, don’t stick around long. Further, the boards of first-generation groups are generally a reflection of the leader and, therefore, typically very insular as well. The age range within this type of board is often similar to the age of the founder. This makes for a leadership structure that has a limited view and tends to be resistant to change.
Further, he talks about how groups led by charismatic leaders suffer when the external environment changes. The decision to start atheismunited.com was born from that change in environment. The atheist world is much different today than 6 years ago. RRS is still needed, but atheism united will be more current and relevant. The project was born from the idea that we didn’t care what banner we impacted the world under, we just wanted to have the biggest impact possible. We decided it was necessary to create something different. How justified Darrel Ray makes us feel.
“As long as the external environment remains consistent with the conditions in which the organization was founded, it will continue to function. But when the external environment changes, it can present difficult challenges. To the degree that an organization influences the surrounding culture, the target of its efforts must change. Culture is a moving target, and organizations that don’t adjust their influence strategy run the risk of using yesterday’s successful methods on today’s culture.
A good example is the civil rights movement, where many of the first-generation leaders continued following a vision that was rendered obsolete with changes in legislation and social norms.”
Reposted from: two types of atheist groups