The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The reality of the social conditions that exist. As John Kenneth Galbraith remarked: “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” A good leader can be a catalyst for motivation in the short term, but the best leaders create conditions for society to motivate itself.

Leaders inspire communities to accomplish tasks that assist a positive evolution. Charismatic leaders, who can be effective in the short term, must necessarily sustain this intrinsic motivation indefinitely.

What makes us do what we do?
Why did you help that old man cross the road the other day?
Why did you volunteer for the blood donation camp?
Many such questions arise in our minds. Each day brings with it an endless list of decisions to be made. Decisions are driven, in large part, by the hope of a benefit or fear of a consequence.

Every decision we make is filtered through this process. Our needs for sustenance, security, belonging, recognition, and a sense of growth and achievement becomes a strong driver or a motivator of behavior.

Social leadership is about making qualitative changes at the level of behavior leading to a synergistic relationship between individuals and the society. In organizations, real power and energy is generated through such relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.

Social groups, whose members are aligned with its purpose, feel a challenge in their task, have a strong sense of solidarity, feel a responsibility towards the outcome, and experience growth as a group. In their personal lives too, members sustain these challenges by trying to achieve their self-esteem and social responsibility with earnest commitment. Social leadership is all about promoting ‘we-ness’.

In conclusion, social leadership is about caring for people and the social structure.

[Arvind Passey]
[2006]
Written for PT Education