Marshall Ganz's Inspirational Quotes

Blog Details

Marshall Ganz is an American educator, organizer, and senior lecturer at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He is widely recognized as an expert in the fields of leadership, organizing, and narrative. Ganz has had a significant impact on community organizing and activism, and he has played a crucial role in shaping the way people think about leadership and social change. 

Marshall Ganz, a renowned expert in leadership, organizing, and narrative, has shared many inspiring quotes throughout his career. Here are some of his thought-provoking quotes:

1. "Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose under conditions of uncertainty."

2. "Storytelling is not only how we understand the world but also how we can change it."

3. "The most important resource we have for making change is the people we have."

4. "Public narrative is the art of translating values into action."

5. "Leadership is about taking responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose, and not about exercising authority."

6. "Leadership requires the capacity to inspire others to join us, to act, to realize their own power."

7. "Storytelling connects our hearts to our heads, which helps us act with integrity and authenticity."

8. "Leading is not about being in charge. It's about taking charge of generating and channeling the energy of the people."

9. "The stories we tell not only express who we are, but also create who we are becoming."

10. "To lead is to accept responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty."

11. "Leadership is about creating the conditions for others to learn, experiment, and take risks."

12. "The challenge of leadership is to be strong but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor but without folly."

13. "Authentic leadership is grounded in the lived experience, shared values, and mutual relationships of the leader and the led."

14. "Organizing is the process by which we come together across our differences to build power to act collectively."

15. "Leadership is a craft. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can be practiced."

These quotes encapsulate Marshall Ganz's profound insights into leadership, organizing, and the power of storytelling to create positive change in the world.


Leadership and Organizing

  • Where can we find the courage to act in spite of fear? Trying to eliminate that which we react to fearfully is a fool’s errand because it locates the source of our fear outside ourselves, rather than within our own hearts.

  • Organized collective action challenging the status quo—a social movement— requires leadership that goes far beyond a stereotypical charismatic public persona with whom it is often identified. Unable to rely on established bureaucratic structures for coordination, evaluation, and action, such action depends on voluntary participation, shared commitments, and ongoing motivation. Movements must mobilize under risky conditions not only because well-resourced oppositions often resist their efforts, but also because the undertaking itself is fraught with uncertainty about how—and whether—it can happen in the first place.
  • Mobilizing others to achieve purpose under conditions of uncertainty— what leaders do—challenges the hands, the head, and the heart.

  • How do you invest in developing leadership but not in creating dependency of that leadership upon you?

  • Practicing leadership – enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty – requires engaging the heart, the head, and the hands: motivation, strategy, and action.

  • Leadership in organizing is rooted in three questions articulated by the first century Jerusalem sage, Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who am I? When I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? – Pirke Avot (Wisdom of the Fathers)

  • Organizing is a practice of leadership whereby we define leadership as enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty.


Hope is the belief in the probability of the possible rather than the necessity of the probable.

Participating in a social action not only often involves a rearticulation of one’s story of self, us, and now, but marks an entry into a world of uncertainty so daunting that access to sources of hope is essential.

There’s a real sweet spot between challenge and hope – leaders make pathways that keep both firmly in view.

Young people have an almost biological destiny to be hopeful.

The Power of Story

Public narrative is a leadership practice of translating values into action. It is based on the fact that values are experienced emotionally. As such, they are sources of ends worthy of action and the capacity for action

Storytelling is how we interact with each other about values; how we share experiences with each other, counsel each other, comfort each other, and inspire each other to action.

When we tell a story we enable the listener to enter its time and place with us, see what we see, hear what we hear, feel what we feel.

A story communicates fear, hope, and anxiety, and because we can feel it, we get the moral not just as a concept, but as a teaching of our hearts. That’s the power of story.

Stories teach us how to act in the “right” way. They are not simply examples and illustrations. When they are well told, we experience the point, and we feel hope. It is that experience, not the words as such, that can move us to action. Because sometimes that is the point – we have to act.

Narrative allows us to communicate the values that motivate the choices that we make. Narrative is not talking “about” values; rather narrative embodies and communicates values. And it is through the shared experience of our values that we can engage with others, motivate one another to act, and find the courage to take risks, explore possibility and face the challenges we must face.

Public narrative is woven from three elements: a story of why I have been called, a story of self; a story of why we have been called, a story of us; and a story of the urgent challenge on which we are called to act, a story of now. This articulation of the relationship of self, other, and action is also at the core of our moral traditions. As Rabbi Hillel, the 1st Century Jerusalem sage put it, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?”

Through public narrative leaders – and participants – can move to action by mobilizing sources of motivation, constructing new shared individual and collective identities, and finding the courage to act.

Leadership, especially leadership on behalf of social change, often requires telling a new public story, or adapting an old one: a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now.

Narrative is not talking “about” values; rather narrative embodies and communicates values.

Stories teach. We’ve all heard the ending – “and that is the moral of the story.” Have you ever been at a party where someone starts telling a story and they go on…and on…and on…? Someone may say (or want to say), “Get to the point!” We deploy stories to make a point, and to evoke a response.

The moral of a successful story is emotionally experienced understanding, not only conceptual understanding, and a lesson of the heart, not only the head.

A story is like a poem. It moves not by how long it is, nor how eloquent or complicated. It moves by offering an experience or moment through which we grasp the feeling or insight the poet communicates.

Well-told stories help turn moments of great crises into moments of new beginnings.

When we tell our own story, we teach the values that our choices reveal, not as abstract principles, but as our lived experience. We reveal the kind of person we are to the extent that we let others identify with us.