Social Leadership –Choosing to Challenge the Status Quo

A Heaston
Allen Heaston,
J.D. Candidate, 2020 | The University of Tennessee College of Law

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus” – Martin Luther King Jr.

In the ever-changing world we live in today, the need for effective leadership is at an all-time high. However, individuals with the capacity to effectively lead others are scarce, despite the essential need for more of them. Generally, social leadership challenges one to bring community members together and create valuable social change. Through altruistic behavior, a social leader places others above his own self-serving motives. Ultimately, service is at the forefront of every decision, and specific issues are confidently driven towards effective solutions. More simply stated, a true social leader either leads by example, or not at all! Far too often, this type of leadership does not align with where one fits into an organizational hierarchy, where many leaders are focused on getting desired results by any means necessary. Conversely, social leaders embody certain core values and key behaviors that drive commitments from others and form the necessary foundation for them to be seen as a leader within the community.

Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. led profound and dynamic shifts in society, yet allowed empathy and compassion to guide their actions and instill courage in others to drive dramatic social change. Albeit having different personalities and circumstances to overcome, both were equally profound and consequential leaders who confidently stood as voices for their oppressed communities. Courageously, Mandela fought to end Apartheid in South Africa, ultimately becoming a global advocate for human rights. Likewise, Martin Luther King Jr. illustrated empathy through a precise understanding of inequalities faced by the African American community. Two voices that were so desperately needed during extreme racial times. As these examples suggest social leaders represent outliers among more traditional leadership styles, yet they confidently use their moral authority to challenge the status quo in order to bring communities together.

Additionally, social leaders maintain a high level of focus and engagement. Their focus can be demonstrated in small measures. For example, intentional listening, selfless decision-making, and a precise understanding of the impact their actions and relationships with others have bolsters their leadership effectiveness. Equally important, maintaining their focus allows them to foster a culture where every decision made is driven by a greater purpose. Through intentional listening, a social leader becomes actively engaged in the community. As a result, people come together, trusting the vision of someone whom they believe will lead them to true change. Thus, focus and engagement allow a social leader to discern specific needs in order to champion effective solutions.

As lawyers and law students, we must strive to cultivate and sustain an environment that embodies social leadership. We are all leaders. We lead our clients, our respective organizations, and most importantly our communities. Amid the complex decisions we face daily, it is imperative we remain aware of the impact we have on society. No matter where we rank within our professional fields or law programs – heightened status does not equate to increased effectiveness or great leadership. Instead, qualities such as empathy, courage, focus, and engagement strengthen our ability to become active voices and strong leaders within our community. Effective social leadership starts with confidently becoming outliers and challenging the status quo. This leads to a powerful realization of the unique influence we have on society. However, individually we must purposefully embody key inspirational and interpersonal qualities, rather than becoming complacent and simply reliant upon having been placed in leadership roles.

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