When you look at some of the things that have happened to Democrats and progressive groups over the last few years, it is pretty obvious that there should have been more and better leadership development on our side. John Kerry, for example, could have been schooled in how to tell a joke. Mike Dukakis and his crack advance team could have been trained to check out how he would look in a tank before he did the event. But beyond specific moments in time, it is urgently important for the Democratic Party and the progressive movement to have a better way of training, developing and mentoring new leadership.
The old way of doing it in the Democratic Party was to send young staffers and candidates to one day or weekend-long training sessions, and then send them on their way back to their district, hoping like hell they picked up something useful and would do well upon arriving home. Fortunately, a new set of organizations has developed in progressive politics that recognize that it doesn't matter how good your trainers are at the weekend sessions- there needs to be a deeper and longer-term approach toward developing great leaders. While there are several great training organizations, three stand out, all created within the last decade: Center For Progressive Leadership (CPL), Young People For (YP4) and Progressive Majority. All three of them believe in going deep, spending real time teaching and developing up-and-coming leaders. All three do multiple in-depth training sessions with folks (CPL even has a nine-month comprehensive program that top potential leaders are selected for), but also mentor them and work with them one-on-one, and keep in touch with them over a period of years. Of critical importance, all of them have a huge emphasis in diversity. CPL, for example, has had 57 percent of their trainees be women and 38 percent be people of color. This is of almost 3,000 trainees since 2004. Of Progressive Majority's 455 candidates (to date) for elected office, 215 are women, including 149 people of color. And YP4, which is focused on organizing and training on 55 college campuses in 11 states, has a fellowship program in which a remarkable 56 percent are individuals of color. YP4 also has various caucuses of students who mentor each other as they are moving through the fellowship program, including a new caucus of returning veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars.
The other interesting thing about these groups is that their efforts don't stop at training sessions. In fact, one of them, Progressive Majority, is a PAC whose main mission is not just to train people but to actually get them elected to office. They recruit people to run for local offices- including school board, city and county councils, rural co-op boards, and state legislative seats- and then teach them how to run, and work with them every step of the way as they are running for office. In 2006 and 2007 so far, they have recruited and helped elect 76 candidates around the country, winning 55% of their races. And they keep working with candidates once they get elected, helping them run for re-election or for higher office.
I would love to know if you have any good ideas for developing good leaders or stories about what makes a good leader. Let me know.
Mike Lux is the president of American Family Voices, an issue advocacy group sometimes described as the "free safety" of the progressive movement, and consults for progressive organizations and donors through his consulting firm, Progressive Strategies, L.L.C.
Follow Mike Lux on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ProgressiveLux