Thinking About Leadership
Admiral William McRaven
I’m especially alert to the concept of leadership this week. To what it is, and what it’s not. To those who model leadership, and those who posture and don’t quite measure up. I see Admiral McRaven more often these days. The consummate leader. I cherish each brief encounter as we share the same neighborhood shopping center haunts, and I get to express my appreciation for who he is and what he means to this community, our major university and this Great Country. His sister Nan and I have been community colleagues and friends for decades. Good family stock.
McRaven’s #1 New York Times Bestseller “MAKE YOUR BED…Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe The World,” was inspired by his UT-Austin commencement speech that “went viral” in the best sense, and prompted UT Regents to hire him as Chancellor. His latest book, “SEA STORIES: My Life In Special Operations,” highlights his amazing adventures working with and leading the best of the best in defense of values worth defending. One of those missions—the capture and elimination of Osama bin Laden. McRaven is a True Leader. A Good Man. A Patriot.
Leadership Austin…Leadership Begins at Home
Most of us will never have the leadership aspirations and opportunities that were/are the hallmark of Bill McRaven, but our communities need a diversity of leaders, and programs like Leadership Austin seek to answer that call. LA identifies, trains and invests a succession of young leaders back into the community to fill important leadership roles. From neighborhood activists to non-profit Board members to political aspirants at many levels.
One of my favorite sources for salient leadership observations is former LBJ Cabinet Member, Founder of Common Cause and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, John Gardner, who says:
“Most metropolitan areas have within their boundaries enough talent to run a medium-size nation. But it isn’t available for leading, given our present mode of functioning. Some of those people with the greatest potential as leaders feel no responsibility for the proper functioning of their city. We need citizen leaders who can forge new kinds of partnership among officials of local, state and federal government. We need neighborhood leaders, business leaders, faith-based and non-profit leaders.
What is needed at this stage is consciousness-raising, and a re-definition of what is important in public affairs. Individuals who give time, energy and financial resources to public affairs should be counted as Civic Heroes.”
CIVIC HEROES. I love that.
I was in LA’s first class (1980), before there were many selection standards. That class experience proved the catalyst for my several decades of civic engagement. I’m grateful for the education, motivation and introduction to a cadre of like-minded community enthusiasts who wanted to give back to this great community.
Seeking EFFECTIVE Community Leaders
A question we should ask ourselves relative to most of our endeavors is, “Am I EFFECTIVE, or just busy?” In this time of short attention spans, scrolling news, soundbites instead of information and acute device distraction, we should seek to emulate those who do better. The ones with the courage, patience, civility, tenacity and character to inspire the best in the rest of us. True Civic Heroes.
Two of mine in Austin are Kerry Tate and David Smith. They personify constructive, effective civic engagement. David, having served many non-profit leadership roles, is currently the CEO of our dynamic United Way. Kerry, after leading The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and growing a top marketing/PR firm, has served numerous non-profits in various leadership roles, while also providing strategic counsel to our Mayor.
Kerry and David represent the integrity, patience, compassion and smarts that make you want to join them in community service. They champion diversity, inclusion and civility in moving issues forward. They’ve done their homework, so we’d better do ours. Let’s try to be more like them while we’re struggling to not grow up. We all win in that process.
The Noise Is In Washington. Most Solutions Should/Will Be Local…
Focusing too much on the governance dysfunction, tribalism and political in-fighting in Washington will not serve us well. We can and must address that with our votes, but our focused civic energy will best serve our local communities. We know or can learn the status of education, healthcare, environmental, infrastructure and social justice issues at our local level. And the arts, parks and other amenities that enhance our quality of life. Government can and should be a strong partner in this regard, but given the unpredictability of governance, CIVIC HEROES can step up to take the lead. That’s Leadership.
A Mosey Close
Our communities need more leaders. At many levels, addressing many issues. Let’s encourage our Civic Heroes. Better yet, let’s be some, and encourage our young people to follow suit. This quote from the LBJ Library is a timely reminder.