Central PA's LGBT News Source


Lead, follow or get out of the way


 By Dr. Terry Drew Kaaren

What are leaders supposed to do? Leaders are supposed to lead. That seems like a no-brainer. Yet we see very little leading today in the news.

We certainly see people in power spouting rhetoric and hyperbole. The former is a socially acceptable, polite way of saying someone is expressing the same old crap without any solution; or, telling out-and-out lies to make oneself, ones party, or ones ideology look good. The latter is particularly effective for convincing the easily-led-astray and the uneducated; or, placating people in agreement with the ideas of hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia one might support.

This article is not to encourage you to sign petitions; show up at demonstrations; tweet and post; vote or register to vote; or, run for public office. Those suggestions are excellent ways to affect change in our world and local communities, of course, and I believe we should all be doing those things if we are drawn to do so. Rather, I’m thinking about something a bit more basic:  Individually and personally leading in ways that are unique to each of us.

To lead effectively a sterling quality is required, seldom seen in many politicians and other leaders:  Integrity. This also requires an action step that is more difficult than finger-pointing and blaming:  Taking responsibility for our actions.

John Quincy Adams is quoted as saying:  If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader. Adams is not one of our best-known, stellar presidents. His best work was done before and after his presidency. As a diplomat “he set the essential marks of American foreign policy for [over a century] … He was a principled politician after serving as president, focused on the antislavery movement (Wagner, 2018).”

Why are this quote and this man important? Note the lack of need to bully, to lie, to mislead, or to get people to do things for one’s own benefit anywhere in this admonition. The Adams’ quote speaks to our need to take personal responsibility with integrity to serve others. How can we best do that?

The best way to demonstrate that we are committed to any cause is to act in a way that is consistent with the values of that undertaking. To be effective, we must be consistently mindful of our vision and mission in life. In other words, if the basis of who we are as an individual is in opposition to what we are attempting to promote we will fall flat on our face.

We’ve seen this all-too-often in politics. The legislator who derides gay men is found having sex with a street hustler. We discover that the religious leader who speaks out against abortion took her daughter to a clinic to have one. This list goes on and speaks to another issue that we must recognize.

Nothing we do is private any more. Have you ever posted a comment on social media, and then have it come back to bite you in the ass? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt … and the bite marks, which in one case is still healing.

I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone I know that, if asked, wouldn’t respond with a roll of the eyes, a very deep sigh, or by throwing their hands up in the air. It’s one thing to misspeak, or say something out of a brief moment of anger or upset directly to another person. It’s a completely different ballgame when what we say can literally fly around the world in a manner of minutes or seconds for everyone and anyone to see and critique.

In the world of social media there is no privacy, so mean what you say online or in print (and in person) and standby your convictions. This is especially important if we are going to be taken seriously in regard to issues about which we are concerned, or movements we desire to promote. Social media is a far more effective when we are promoting solutions, not lambasting an opponent or repeatedly reminding our readers of consistent failure.

Above and beyond the lack of privacy, however, this issue is part of a much larger conversation about how we present ourselves, both privately and to the world. Granted, we are going to act differently in some ways with friends as opposed to business colleagues or strangers. But none of our actions or words should be diametrically opposed to the essence of who we are as a person.

Consider how you might better lead by example, or take on a leadership role. And, in that process, recognize that – titled or not – you are already a leader. We all are on some level. The only questions that remain are whether or not we’re going to embrace this responsibility, and how best to exercise the power we all have.

Lead us.

Terry is an author, speaker, licensed social worker and flight attendant. He is also the director of Spirit, Mind and Body Foundation.