Recognizing Leadership In All Its Forms

Recognizing Leadership In All Its Forms

Broadening notions and practices of leadership beyond the dominant “individual hero” narrative.


A hero narrative that enshrines one kind of leadership—and the individuals who embody it—dominates societies around the world. This top-down notion of leadership centers individualism over solidarity and maintains an oppressive status quo. Even leadership programs aimed at effecting social change are often designed within the confines of this norm.

Yet leadership takes many forms. There is no single right way to lead, and no one can drive systemic change alone. In many communities, the practice of leadership is shared, relational, and situational, with people stepping back or forward depending on what the moment calls for. Recognizing these truths and redefining leadership more expansively are crucial steps in advancing systemic change, dismantling social inequities, and shifting who has voice and power.

What we did

Above is a snippet of the introduction to a six-part essay series for Stanford Social Innovation Review. Working closely with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others involved in the Beyond the Hero leadership initiative, the series includes voices from philanthropic, Indigenous, rural, community-based, and network-led leadership efforts. It explores why it is important—and how it is possible—to broaden notions and practices of leadership beyond the dominant “individual hero” narrative.

The six articles in the series are:

  1. The Need for More Inclusive Leadership NarrativesCo-authors: Deborah Bae, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Kiernan Doherty, Metropolitan Group. Contributors: Ericka Stallings, Leadership Learning Community; Dana D’Orazio, National League of Cities; Nikka Landau, Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation.
  2. Grounding Leadership in Community WisdomAuthor: Brian Carey Sims, Jomoworks. Contributors: Chris Peters, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples; Freya Hendrickson, Rural Development Initiatives; Heidi Khokhar, Rural Development Initiatives.
  3. Leading Together for Systems ChangeAuthor: Sida Ly-Xiong, Nexus Community Partners. Contributors: Ayoola Carleton, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Mark Cervero, CommonHealth ACTION; Russ Gaskin, CoCreative; Julie Hartpence, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Sujatha Jesudason, The New School.
  4. Honoring and Supporting Women of Color LeadersCo-authors: Dr. Gail Christopher, National Collaborative for Health Equity; Deepa Iyer, Building Movement Project.
  5. Leadership Development Beyond ProjectsCo-authors: Elikem Tomety Archer, Global Citizen Year; Jessica Harrington, Health Policy Research Scholars. Contributor: Deborah Meehan, Network Consultant.
  6. Rethinking Leadership Development Evaluation – Co-authors: Lisa Frantzen, TCC Group; Jared Raynor, TCC Group; Hannah Taylor, Global Health Corps.

Development of this series was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

What next?

We hope this series offers you new insights and questions, a feeling of camaraderie where you recognize familiar struggles, and a sense of hope at the promising efforts underway. If these essays resonate with you, or might support someone you know, please consider sharing the series with your communities and let us know what ideas and questions are surfacing for you. To engage in the conversation and learn more about this emergent learning initiative, visit Beyond the Hero and contact Kiernan Doherty at

Artwork by Raffi Marhaba from The Dream Creative

Metropolitan Group tiene una compañía hermana con sede en la Ciudad de México. Impacto Social Metropolitan Group