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Leadership Style of Marian Wright Edelman


“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life” (Mistral, 2003). Marian Wright Edelman understands it as no one; she advocates for unprivileged children for her entire life. Under her leadership, Children Defense Fund (CDF) has become the American most devoted defender for children and families. This fund has worked since 1973 “... to ensure every child in America has a HealthyStart, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Startin life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities” (Edelman, 2009).

The fund has as a goal providing the equal rights and opportunities for all American children who cannot lobby, vote or speak for themselves. However, CDF pays significant attention to the rights of not favored, indigent, ethnic minority and those with disabilities children. Fund organizes preventive programs to defend children from getting sick, pregnant, homeless, being abused or drawn into the sadly-known Cradle to Prison Pipeline.


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Children’s Defense Fund

The predecessor of The Children's Defense Fund was The Civil Rights Movement. Marian Wright Edelman was in charge of the Educational Fund office and NAACP Legal Defense in Jackson; she defended the civil rights of people who were indigent and discriminated. In 1969, Marian Edelman commenced the Washington Research Project, a public defender law firm that supervised federal platforms for families with low income. In 1973, still working on this project, she realized the necessity of foundation of the Children’s Defense Fund (Edelman, 2009).

CDF challenges the U. S. Government to raise its involvement by meliorating programs and policies for children. Over the years, CDF makes thorough researches on children’s health, protection, survival and development in all social and ethnic groups, as well as independent analytical reports of how state and federal procedures influence children and their parents. The fund provides public with information about elected officials and how these officials care about children (Spencer, 2002).

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For the last thirty-five years, the Fund has partnered with a plethora of organizations and cooperated with policymakers to create two-way support system to ordain laws and policies that have facilitated billions of children to meet their potential; millions of children were able to escape poverty, sickness, illiteracy, hunger because they got the proper nutrition, medical care, nurturing and education. Among these were the arrangements directed to prevent school dropping, child abuse, substances abuse and teenage pregnancy (Edelman, 2009).

Marian Wright Edelman’s Life Story

Marian Wright Edelman, the future President of the Children’s Defense Fund and passionate fighter for children’s rights was born in 1939 in Bennettsville, which is a picturesque town in South Carolina. Marian Edelman was named after the prominent singer of that time, Marian Anderson. Marian Edelman’s interest for economic, social, ethnic and political equity, justice and rights were cultivated by her father, when she was still a little girl. Her father was a Baptist minister, so he imparted her “strong values, high expectations and steady support” (Leeman, 1996).

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In 1963, the career of Marian Edelman started as a staff attorney in New York City. After she had graduated from Yale University, she accepted the job in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund.

In 1965, Marian Wright Edelman passed the Bar and became the first woman of African-American social origin admitted to the Mississippi State Bar Association.

Marian Edelman’s career path changed perspective after she started working as a defense attorney for the Children Development Group organization in Mississippi. She concentrated all her energy for restitution of Federal Children’s funding for Head Starting program in Mississippi, and her work was rewarded and noticed. In 1968, working on a Field Establishment grant, Marian Edelman started the Research Project in Washington D.C. of the Public Policy Southern Center. Five years later, it would become the parenting organization of the Children's Defense Fund. Marian participated at the Research Project, after she and her husband Peter Edelman moved from Washington D.C. to Boston in 1971.

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In 1992, Marian and the CDF launched the new successful campaign, which was called “Leave No Child Behind”. Marian Edelman assesses that it will cost approximately 47 billion dollars to accomplish all the objectives of a completely-funded Head Start, which included vaccinations for all children, appropriate medical care and insurance for every child and pregnant women, as well as an expanded tax credit for children. She indefatigable and insistently lobbies for these objectives because she sincerely believes that “Investing in children is not a national luxury or a national choice. It is a national necessity... ” (Edelman, 2009).

On the day of Children’s defense in 1996, Marian and Children’s Defense Fund arranged the campaign, which they called “Stand For Children” in Washington, D.C.  Approximately 200 thousand supporters and enthusiasts joint the march in support of children health and happiness, as well as objectives of the Children’s Defense Fund. With the enormous support, which Marian received in the course of the campaign “Stand For Children”, she demonstrated the government of America that the Children’s support movement is a serious national force and such force is necessary to be considered in American politics (Edelman, 2009).

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The Problem which CDF Facing

Hardly being born, many children in America have already had multitude forces against them and, as they became older, these unfavorable circumstances were often getting worse and, eventually they lost hope to have a successful adulthood. The following sad statistics did not add optimism. Every thirty-three seconds a baby was born in poverty and indigence; every thirty-nine seconds a baby was born without medical care and health insurance. Every forty seconds children were neglected or abused. Every three hours a child was killed by gun. As a child was growing, the life was getting more and more dangerous for him/her. Unprivileged children underwent multitude risk factors such as abuse, violence, malnutrition, offence and illnesses which accumulate and overpower brittle child willpower. Inferiority feeling passed to anger or dependency and such child became a predator or a victim, according to his/her nature. According to multiple researches, a young child who was overexposed to risk factors (if there were more than six risk factors) was ten times more prone to commit an outlaw or violent action by the age of 16 than a child who was exposed to not more than two risk factors (Spencer, 2002).

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Overloaded, underfunded and understaffed child protective services in the U.S. across the country are now one of the main contributor systems into the cradle to prison pipeline and a wrongdoer of racial and ethnic equality. A National Study Justice Institute reported that being humiliated, abused or neglected as a child enlarges the possibility of arrest as a teenager by 59 percent. Humiliation, abuse or neglect makes higher the possibility of criminal inclination as an adult by 28 percent and violent action by 30 percent (Spencer, 2002).

How Marian Edelman Handled the Problem

In September of 2007, the Cradle to Prison Pipeline preventive campaign started in the course of a national summit, and was arranged at Howard University in the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. Government officials, educators, parents and their children and community leaders responded by creating coalitions to hold children busy with additional school activities and useful public activities in their communities. Summits have gathered in California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas and New York. During the summits, participants made up action and event’s plans; they formed working teams to promote best practices and arrangements, built special community to confront the policies and rules that fed the crisis in their home state (Spencer, 2002).

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The Children’s Defense Fund prepared and distributed a video presentation of the Pipeline (truth about Pipeline). The CDF Freedom School programs and summits were arranged in many cities of America to support the movement. The CDF continued to release their researchers, for example, annual “Children, Guns and Violence” reports, “Not Guns” report, “Protection of Children” report. The CDF arranged special program that tracks the murders of children and summons for effective gun control steps and nonviolent conflict settlement training. Publications of annual National Observances of Children’s Sabbaths manuals were the new CDF activity. Now, the CDF also actively participates in providing college leadership and scholarships opportunities for young gifted people who overcome odds, and in providing Annual Cradle to Prison Pipeline Best Practices and Leadership Training at CDF Haley Farm (Spencer, 2002).

Type of Leadership Style Marian Displayed

Marian Wright Edelman developed a Delegative leadership style. Such strategy of management depends on the competency and motivation of every employee because this strategy assumed little to the absence of managerial involvement. It is essential with this leadership style that leader is still responsible for the entire project, and should be accessible for employees to assist in accomplishing their objectives. Leader knew and demonstrated it openly that employees were experienced, educated, trustworthy and highly skilled. He encourages the employees feeling proud for results of their work. As an important part of strategy, employees should be responsible enough to make crucial decisions. Leaders who efficiently counterpoise delegation with advice and freedom are really prepared for the higher-level achievements. Usually, such perpetual development and promotion of employees and leaders contribute to the permanent development and progression of organizational production and performance, which obviously in the case of Marian Edelman’s organization were considered in this paper (Zenger, 2009).

Strengths and Weaknesses of Delegative Leadership Style

Delegative leadership gives the possibility to do more work in a short time. Using the strategy “divide and conquer” leader through delegation of obligations, tasks, authorities and duties to trustworthy competent employees, provides smooth flow of everyday work. Regardless of the second name of this style “laissez-faire”, which implies a completely hands-off approach, many leaders remain open and available to team members for consultation and feedback. If the leader let his employees do most of their work independently, he/she could concentrate on more abstract and higher-level strategies. This leads to new ideas and high productivity of the leader and his employee, i.e. everyone plays his/her own key role (Zenger, 2009).

The delegative leadership style is not for employees, who could not meet deadlines, manage own projects or independently solve problems, as well as not for employees who are afraid of responsibility and are not enough motivated, educated or competent. People who are just good executives, non-initiative or need constant supervise could not work effectively with a delegate leader (Zenger, 2009).

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Leadership strategies are approaches created to provide efficient guidance and decision-making level of proficiency within an organization. An organization’ success depends extremely on the style of leadership of its leader. There are disparities in the leadership attitudes and procedures required at various organizations. What one needs from a CEO or the secretary of the Defense Department is different from the leadership requirements of a nightshift supervisor at McDonald’s.

Marian Wright Edelman is a leader of a nonprofit public organization that created to make world a better place for children. The people who work in this organization are devoted to their work. They realize the enormous importance of their mission and reasonably assess the difficulties of their task. All they need is the leader who will define the direction of development and unite their efforts for pursuing the common goal. Delegative style of Marian Edelman gives such people the feeling of being motivated, responsible, self-actualized, needed and valuable. For example, if Marian Edelman showed the authoritarian leadership style in the worst case scenario, she would lose her passionate and freedom-loving followers; in the best case scenario, she would take from them the feeling of necessity and importance, as well as responsibility, initiative, motivation and self-actualization. Therefore, in both cases she would not have a success as a public activist. For example, Marian Edelman had the democratic leadership style, i.e. her followers are allowed to have their personal goals. However, in such sensitive matter as children’s fund, democratic leadership style could make more harm than good: the resources have to be distributed strictly according to their assignment; otherwise, it would be hardly possible to accomplish the assigned tasks. If the assigned tasks are not accomplished, it will undermine the trust to the fund and, as a consequence, to the leader. If the leader is not trustworthy, the organization will not get donations. No donations mean no funding.

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Therefore, different organizations need different leadership styles and, accordingly, different leaders. The wise leader understands the potential of employees and can choose the correct style of his leadership, and owing to this ability, the wise leader can become the Great Leader. 



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