The Power of an Organizing Image

Change requires a vibrant organizing image. A particularly good illustration comes from Nelson Mandela in his book Long Walk to Freedom (1994). In the early 1950s, there was little hope for the freedom-seeking efforts of black South Africans. Then in 1955, an innovative idea was introduced: a “Congress of the People” representing every group in the country would draw up a charter containing principles for the creation of a new South Africa. It was a new organizing image.

People from two hundred organizations were asked, “If you could make the laws… what would you do?” Asking the people to envision their own future caught the collective imagination and gave rise to a national conversation about purpose, integrity, connection, and learning. Suggestions came from everywhere. The document that emerged was short, clear, and inspiring. It became an organizing image that would endure through a very long period of agony and eventually lead to the emergence of the new South Africa.

Real leadership is pursuing the common good of the system. People who are in the fundamental state of leadership invite others to transcend their normal assumptions of self-interest, external rewards, exchange, conflict, alienation, and scarcity. They act on new assumptions of sacrifice for the common good, intrinsic rewards, exceeding expectations, possibility, trust and expanded resources. All of this begins with the emergence of a meaningful organizing image.

Reflection

Around what image do we organize in the larger organization?

Around what image do we organize in my unit?

What would happen if I brought people together to create a new image?

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