I’ve Learned it By Doing

I recently saw the movie 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers. It’s based on Doug Stanton’s book, Horse Soldiers. This inspiring movie is about twelve green beret soldiers that were the first on the ground in Afghanistan after 9-11.  They’re my kind of guys- fearless, determined, and wanting to serve the greater good.

There aren’t many people in my family who have served in the military, yet we are grateful for the many who do. For me, the movie was enlightening, and much of it reminded me of the issue-based advocacy campaigns I’ve worked on. In fact, when we are deep in the heart of session, it does feel like a battle. We’re tired, sometimes in legislative hearings until 2 or 3 in the morning, and food is rationed. When you work with someone in this manner for several sessions or years, you might say that you’ve worked “in the trenches” together. Those are just some of the reasons why this movie reminded me of my David vs Goliath battles against industry to protect the health of Americans and make communities a better place for all to live.

I didn’t want to be the annoying person writing on her phone throughout the movie, but I did manage to get some of the quotes. They might not be perfect because I couldn’t rewind in real time, but they’re pretty close, and I think you’ll get the point.

Turning Moments Into Movements

I have to begin by saying, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the messages I want to share with you. I began lobbying in 2003, and my volunteer career began much earlier than that, but there’s one thing I can say about each of those experiences: leaders turn moments into movements. Did you catch that? I truly believe that no matter if you’re working on a PTO carnival, a Capital Campaign, starting a diversity and inclusion committee in your Junior League, or starting an advocacy campaign, that leaders turn moments into movements. I also believe that people earn followership by not only the “thing” they are fighting for or building but because of the leader. Both the issue and the leader must be inspirational for the magic to happen. As I continue to write, I will unpack these things for you with the hope that I can help you grow as a leader and be successful in building your movement.

Now let’s look at some of the leaders in 12 Strong and the moments that they used to help them build their movement (winning the battle):

  1. Know your why: At a very poignant moment in the movie, Colonel Mulholland tells Captain Nelson, “The most important thing a man can take into war is a reason why.” He then hands him a piece of the towers from 9-11. Wow! How many times can you carry something with you as a reminder of why you are fighting? The why we are fighting is everything. Whether people are already part of your organization or if you are recruiting them to be a part of it, at the time you speak to them they are probably already motivated. When you help them to fully understand how they can be a part of your why in a clear manner, they aspire to give you their all and become loyal volunteers or partners. You also have to give them the right task or job because if you don’t, they’ll give their energy to another cause (we’ll talk more about what the right task is in a future blog post).

  2. Live to fight another day: One of the persons I look up to in advocacy work is Jill Birnbaum. She’s a smart cookie with real grit. When I was a young lobbyist, Jill would always say to me, “Don’t forget to live to fight another day.” It didn’t take long for me to understand what that meant. Capitol buildings have energy that is their own. It’s high drama, filled with emotion, and every step you take is like chess. With that comes a lot of heated conversations, situations were you could piss off a lot of people for short-term gain or you could step on toes. What Jill was saying was to not get caught up in short-sighted vision. Make the move that will get you to bill signing day. And sometimes it’s beyond that. It’s about making the move that will get you two, four, or even six bill signing ceremonies. At the start of the movie, Captain Nelson’s squad tells him the same thing. “Your only goal is keeping us alive,” says one of his soldiers. To win the war against Al-Qaeda, they must live to fight another day. And a leader must do the same thing to see his or her movement through to the end.

  3. Trust those in the field. For the past ten years, I’ve managed government relations and grassroots professionals. That means I’m at my desk on conference calls or sitting in meetings more than I’m in a Capitol building. I have to distill information given to me by those in the field, as well as those I report to, and then make decisions. As a team, we’re building movements in the public health policy arena. Every campaign we have is towards building a world free from heart disease. As a leader in this movement, I have to trust my soldiers on the ground because they know the best moves most of the time. In 12 Strong, General Dostum, who is a warlord, says to Captain Mulholland, “You have the sky, but wars are won in the dirt.” So true! When you don’t know the right call to make, ask your team in the field to use their best judgment and allow them to make the call. More than likely, it’ll be right.

  4. Don’t count out the underdog. I have worked on more than 65 smoke-free campaigns in fifteen years across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. In fact, we are in the heart of some at this very moment. In each of these campaigns, we are fighting Big Tobacco, who has an unlimited war chest. It always feels like David vs Goliath, but we never give up. We know that with the right volunteers, inspirational testimony, and truthful facts, we will win in the end. Some of that is having the right mindset and swagger. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when a soldier finds out who they are fighting and how many. His response? “Outnumbered 5000-to-1: that’s a target rich environment.” I literally squealed out loud because he’s my kind of a guy. There’s no reason to flinch or to worry when those in a movement are well-trained and have heart. You can always beat Goliath. I know because I do it every day to save lives. I also know those who have lost these battles against me, especially when I was a young lobbyist, was because they counted out the underdog. I’ll be the underdog any day of the week.

Becoming A Leader Of Movement

I’m sure you want to know what are the things I’ll take away from the movie. Well, there isn’t one, and if you know me you won’t be surprised that I’ll have two. I think these two are the most important things for every leader building a moment to remember. At the end of the movie, not a single man thinks it is the end. You’ll hear Colonel Diller say, “We won the battle. We’ve still got to win the war.” Going back to my smoke-free workplace wins, each city where we pass a local ordinance that protects people from secondhand smoke is the battle. It’s not the war. Each state where we pass a smoke-free law isn’t the war. We won’t win the war until every state in the country protects all workers from secondhand smoke. I mentioned that I started lobbying in 2003, but I didn’t mention that it was on this very issue. Many days, people ask me how do I find the fortitude to keep fighting. It’s simple. My family has been impacted by the toll of tobacco, so it’s in my heart to educate others on the harmful effects of tobacco and smoking.  When Mulholland first arrives at the battlefield, Dustom looks at him and tells him, “There are no soldiers, just warriors. Stop being a soldier and start using this,” and he points to his heart. Ah, heart. It’s always the heart, and if you’re a leader of a movement, I know you have great heart. And with that, Dustom becomes a leader to Mulholland, who didn’t trust him much before, and becomes a part of his movement.

When you get into the trenches and the hard days of battle, remember these four points.  When you couple these points when being fearless, determined, and while fighting for the greater good, you’ll be an unstoppable leader building a movement.

What are the movements that you’re currently building? List them below as a comment. What are the issues that you’re struggling with? Mention them, and I’ll use them as inspiration for a future blog post or send you tools that will help you overcome your obstacle.

Don’t forget to #GetYourShineOn, Movement Makers.

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