Leadership in Social Change Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans on How New Power Catalyzes Impactful Social Change Movements


About This Episode

We kick off 2019 with a quick sit down with Jeremy Heimans, Co-Founder & CEO of Purpose and author of New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You. We get his take on new power and it’s potential as a catalyst for social movements. During the conversation, Jeremy cites examples of how new power is being leveraged in the world around us and its powerful impact on creating change.

About Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans is the co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a global organization headquartered in New York that builds and supports movements for a more open, just, and habitable world. Purpose has advised organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and UNICEF. He is co-founder of GetUp!, an Australian political organization with more members than all of Australia’s political parties combined, and Avaaz, the world’s largest online citizens’ movement, now with nearly 50 million members worldwide. Heimans is a recipient of the Ford Foundation’s 75th anniversary Visionary Award for his work as a movement pioneer and chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Civic Participation. He has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business and The Monthly has observed that Heimans “might be the most influential Australian in the world”. With Henry Timms, Jeremy is co-author of the 2018 bestseller “New Power”, praised by the New York Times’ David Brooks as “the best window I’ve seen into this new world” and by The Guardian as “a manual on how to navigate the 21st century”. Their thinking on “new power” has been featured as the Big Idea in Harvard Business Review, and Jeremy’s TED talk on the topic has been viewed more than 1.4 million times. Heimans was educated at Harvard University and the University of Sydney and began his career at McKinsey and Company. He lives in New York.

In his words…

“New power is all around us and it’s a new way to think about the exercise of power. We often use the comparison of Harvey Weinstein, the icon of old power, someone who used power ruthlessly as a currency in order to protect himself, to punish his enemies, to reward his friends, and therefore maintain this position despite all of this abuse and harassment. Contrast that to the Me Too movement, which is an expression of new power. The Me Too movement is a kind of power that works less like a currency and more like a current. It’s the kind of power that surges, it gets stronger the more people get involved- no one person can capture it or hoard it, but instead people learn to channel its energy.”

“New power dynamics allow people who have been traditionally marginalized to combine their voices much more effectively, at much greater scale, much more quickly and across geography- in such a way where they can start to counterbalance institutional power. You see that dynamic playing out within organizations where it would’ve been more challenging for employees to rise up against the company in another context. You also see it in the wider world, with movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter.”

“You think about a movement like Black Lives Matter, or a movement like Me Too: they see their movements not as leader-less, but as leader-full. There are many leaders, that leadership is distributed and if you want to talk to the leader of Black Lives Matter, you can’t. Because there are too many of these leaders, there’s leaders everywhere. And no one is an appointed leader with authority over the rest. And so, there’s an interesting new capacity that more traditionally structured organizations need to develop- how to work with those new movements and how to harness their energy.”

“I think a lot of the work here is really learning how to use new power and old power together and when to use each one. So you think about an organization like the NRA, they are very good at both old and new power and know how to use them in combination. So they have this old power brand, everybody quivers in their boots at the very thought of crossing them, they’re perceived to have a lot of old power— a lot of that traditional top down ability to affect outcome. At the same time, they are very good at mobilizing. Not just their members but actually this whole world of gun clubs and activist groups and message boards and blogs that are kind of cementing this gun rights ideology, creating intensity at the grass roots, that they can then harness at these critical moments. One of the reasons they’re effective, is they don’t try to control or reign in a lot of that grass roots activity.

“You’re not going to have all new power replace the old. You’re going to have this kind of battle and balancing of the two forces. So, what we argue is not new power: good, old power: bad, but rather, if you want to be effective in the 21st century as a leader, you need to learn this set of skills. So really, a lot of our book is about what it takes to survive and thrive in this new environment. And that doesn’t just mean throwing out everything you’ve learned about the old power world. It really means learning a set of new power skills and a new power mindset to work effectively alongside a world that is still dominated by institutions, is still dominated by the trappings of old power.

Questions Answered on this Episode

  • As we are exploring concepts about leadership this season, I really wanted to talk to you about power. You and Henry Timms have a book out, called New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You. The concept of it really resonated with me. It represents a shift from the old guard thinking of power, in which it’s held by only a chosen few. Explain to us what new power is and what it looks like it today’s world.
  • Leadership is traditionally connected to power. Do you think that organizations can be more successful by being open to new power?
  • Can you give share any examples of what new power can look like in a traditional workplace?
  • I’ve seen some people shy away from the term “power” because they are viewing it from the concept of “power over,” but I like to think of power as more collaborative and transformative as in “power with” or “power to.” New power seems to embrace this approach. From a social change perspective, should nonprofit organizations be more open to this as a path to solving social issues quicker?
  • Right now we are having a lot of conversations about diversity, inclusion and equity. Do you think new power has the potential to solve any of those challenges?
  • What are your predictions about leadership structures in the next 5 to 10 years?