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"New Parts of Speech for New Times" by Lynne Algrant

LA Times

Author and Consultant Peter Block offers this definition of Citizen:

Citizen: One who is willing to be accountable to the well-being of the whole.

I found this definition in Paul Schmitz’s book Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up.

From 2008 to 2020, I started every fall with Bergen LEADS, a local civic leadership program that I helped create here in Bergen County, NJ. One day a month from September to June, I had the honor of exploring local issues and leadership with people from all walks of life. Although, the Class of 2021 was my last as Leadership Seminar Director, I am vicariously experiencing the program through 2 of my colleagues who are in the Class of 2022.

Bergen LEADS gave me the responsibility and the opportunity of thinking about what leadership looks like in the Civic Arena. What is “leadership”? How does leadership work? How do we work the levers of leadership to create a better community for everyone?

I cannot begin to describe what a privilege it is to explore the concept of leadership with excited, committed people. So here is some of what I learned in the 13 years I had that honor.

Leadership is an action, not a position

Out in the community and on the ground, true leadership is active and in constant motion. Very often the folks really getting things done rarely have the title nor the position of “leader.”

Challenging Civic discussions create room for new ideas

So often, leadership is about making space for new ideas and new conversations. Particularly in the Civic Arena, we must challenge “conventional wisdom” and “it has always been this way” thinking, to move in new directions.

True Leaders are Fearless in Confronting the Painful Truths of History

I recently had the pleasure of leading a book discussion on The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein for the Westwood Library. Rothstein wants us to know that our communities look the way they do by design, not by accident or “personal choices.”

Rothstein quotes from two of the most widely used high school American history textbooks, noting that neither pays any attention to redlining and other race-based policies.

We are not meant to know the history. And yet, we cannot lead from a place of ignorance.

“Leaders” especially elected officials and policy makers are Weathervanes

Too often, “leaders” are actually following “the will of the people.” They turn the way the wind is blowing.

Baratunde Thurston has a podcast called How to Citizen. In it he explores interesting issues and offers tangible things you can do.

To Thurston “citizen” is a verb.

Since elected officials and policy makers tend to be weathervanes, I say:

“Let’s make some Weather!”

Let’s make weather on housing options for all families in our communities!

Let’s make weather on childcare as infrastructure—as important to our economy as any road or bridge!

Let’s make weather on public health is a public good!

Go forth and Citizen!

We are the Leaders we are waiting for!


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