Cadres: What, Why, and How

The term "cadre" is thrown around quite a bit on the left, but it's not always given a clear meaning (or used correctly). This is a shame, because a well-set-up cadre is an incredible tool that has shown its value time and again through history and into the present day.

The basic concept of a cadre is a small group of individuals who are specifically trained and skilled not only in the goal of an organization, but on how to teach and lead others as part of achieving that goal. In the US military, a cadre is the group of officers who are responsible for training the rest of the unit. In cases where the unit is frequently shut down and re-created (for instance, a reserve unit, or one staffed with conscripts who are only called up in case of war), the cadre might be the only part of the unit that stays constant. In either case, "cadre" describes both the group, and individuals who are in it (each individual cadre is a member of the cadre), which can lead to confusion.

That said, the military is far from the only group that uses cadres. The Communist Party of China is famous for its cadre system, which is based on the concept of a Leninist vanguard and has been effective all the way from 1922 to this day. In this system, a cadre is a full-time revolutionary who works on behalf of the party. Cadres fill roles from leadership (at all levels) to military personnel to technical professionals to management staff in public institutions or state-owned enterprises. In Mao's own words:

Our Party organizations must be extended all over the country and we must purposefully train tens of thousands of cadres and hundreds of first-rate mass leaders. They must be cadres and leaders versed in Marxism-Leninism, politically far-sighted, competent in work, full of the spirit of self-sacrifice, capable of tackling problems on their own, steadfast in the midst of difficulties and loyal and devoted in serving the nation, the class and the Party. It is on these cadres and leaders that the Party relies for its links with the membership and the masses, and it is by relying on their firm leadership of the masses that the Party can succeed in defeating the enemy. Such cadres and leaders must be free from selfishness, from individualistic heroism, ostentation, sloth, passivity, and arrogant sectarianism, and they must be selfless national and class heroes; such are the qualities and the style of work demanded of the members, cadres and leaders of our Party.

Today, however, we're going to focus on a cadre development process from a perhaps unlikely source: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has designed a step-by-step process for building a cadre, and it's worth studying. The rest of this series will walk through this process and how it can be applied to build a cadre to help achieve your goals.

Training Cadre | Professional Development & Training | Healthy Schools | CDC
This page provides a step-by-step process of how to build a training cadre. If you are looking to maximize your professional development (PD) knowledge, skills, and resources and further your organization’s reach, consider building a training cadre.

Given the lengthy history of cadres, the model developed by the CDC is interesting because it's easily accessible for modern audiences (e.g. you don't have to read historical documents) and because it's well-developed as a complete step-by-step process. If you find this all interesting, you absolutely can and should go do more research on your own - but for simplicity's sake, this is a great place to start.

The CDC cadre development model is build around four phases, each of which will be one post in this series:

  1. Assessment
  2. Recruitment
  3. Action
  4. Evaluation

We'll address these one at a time to give you a sense of what to expect. Of course, the actual CDC website linked above will have more detail if there's anywhere you want to dig in further!

Before Starting

Before starting down this path, you need to determine the most important part of your cadre: its purpose.

  • Why are you forming this cadre?
  • What will it achieve?
  • Critically, are those objectives something that a cadre is well-suited to achieve?
  • If the cadre can't achieve the objectives alone, who else will the cadre need to collaborate with, and how will it do that?

Before anything else, every member your cadre needs to know what the cadre's purpose is and how their role contributes to it.

The purpose of the cadre and its set of objectives will inform every action you take from here onward, whether that's the structure of the cadre, criteria for membership, or how you evaluate its successes as you go. The purpose can change over time, of course, but the clearer the purpose, the more effective your cadre will be.

For the rest of this series, the checklist below (made by the CDC) can help the cadre leader follow along and execute on the tasks of forming a new cadre.

Ready to get started? We'll begin by assessing the environment and making a plan.