Leadership and Civic Responsibility

Last weekend, I went home to spend some time with my parents.  They’ve never been the “sit down and relax” type of people, and there’s never a shortage of projects or adventures with them.  This particular weekend, the three of us took a couple of trips up to camp with truckloads of firewood in preparation for next summer.

On the ride home, Dad and I got talking about the upcoming election in our town.  My father had been the Supervisor (similar to a mayor of a village/city) for over 20 years until he resigned in November 2010 after some extremely personal attacks directed at him and the company he worked for.  The long story is that in addition to my father being supervisor, he works for a road construction and paving company in our town, one of only a handful of revenue producing businesses, due to our small size (approx. 1,800 people).  A recent proposal came before the town board in 2009 to examine the feasibility of developing windmills in the town.  Given that there was no law, the town board hired an attorney to investigate best practices and to establish guidelines that wouldn’t hurt the environment and ensure additional revenue came into the town to help lower tax rates.  During this debate, my father, who never took a position as pro- or anti-windmills, came under attack based on his place of employment.  People argued that the company stood to make money based on the large amount of land they own.  What these people didn’t seem to grasp, no matter how hard my father tried to explain, is that this company is a MINING company, i.e. they want to take things OUT of the ground, not build windmills which would prevent mining for stone and materials for asphalt, etc.  People also began saying that my father would personally benefit from this, to which my father again tried to explain that his role as an accountant is not commission-based, and is salaried so there was no incentive for my father to be pro-windmill (although he certainly is and has become vocal since resigning).  After 8 months of enduring these attacks and seeing his company be mentioned in the press (often negatively by a vocal minority of town residents who can’t grasp simple logic), he resigned.

In our conversation, I learned some new things about my father and his approach on leadership and civic responsibility that I had never known.  I suppose I should have, as these values I find myself trying to live on a daily basis:

Leaders Empower Others

  • An effective leader is going to challenge others to find their passions, take chances, try new things, and make mistakes, all in order to learn, change, and grow.

Take Ownership of Your Mistakes

  • When you’re wrong, admit it.  Apologize to those who have been hurt and/or misled and ask for feedback on how to improve for the future.

Be Engaged and Informed

  • In a work environment, care about more than just your department or functional area.  Make connections with other departments and befriend those people.  It helps pave the road for when problems occur in your area and you need outside help.
  • In your community, attend local town board/council meetings.  Ask questions of your elected officials on controversial issues.  If you hold a position of power in local/area, remember the constituents that you serve and what they want (usually a job, a home, low taxes, good services in the town, and a sense of community) and advocate tirelessly for those needs.

Occupy a Voting Booth

  • Voting is the only true way that we have to voice our opinions.  Drafting letters, signing petitions, and other similar types of lobbying/protest are fine and good, but if you’re not stepping into the ballot box, you really have lost your standing as someone claiming to be want change.

Cultivate Your Successor(s)

  • In your work role, you need to realize you won’t be there forever.  Make sure you’re sharing in the delegation of your responsibilities in the event that you leave your position and/or company.  (Ok, disclaimer here, this is something I struggle with still in my role).
  • In the local community, try to find the “next generation” of leaders and encourage them to get involved by serving on community groups, local boards, and other volunteer service opportunities to establish themselves in the community and develop their own leadership skills.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

  • At work, always have a Plan B (and C & D).  Show your supervisors and direct reports that you’ve given thought to a situation and that there are always alternatives to ensure success.
  • In the community, know that the best of intentions don’t always equal success.  Sometimes voters and other board members don’t agree with you.  Engage in the dialogue, refrain from becoming emotional and judgmental and stick to logic and the facts of the case.  They’ll come around eventually.

These are pretty basic tenets for life, but this conversation was one of the few times where I’ve heard my father speak so passionately and openly with me.  I always have considered him a leader, based on the work he’s doing for our town and for his company, but seeing him actually articulate these values made me feel a very new connection with him.

Thanks for indulging in this post, as it’s a little more personal than some others have been!  🙂

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