Upham's Corner Online

Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up

Posted: December 11, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

On Saturday, December 10, 2011 on the Tavis Smiley Radio Program (WBUR), Tavis interviewed Paul Schmitz, CEO of Public Allies, and recent author of the text "Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up."

Everyone LeadsTavis:

Paul Schmitz is someone who has spent the last 20 years of his life guiding young people in leadership positions. Paul knows  firsthand that there is incredible untapped leadership throughout our community.  He is sharing his lessons in his new text and offers everyday people and leaders a roadmap to turn their passion into long-term change.

Paul: 

Leadership is about an action people take, not a position people fill.  Is something available to everybody.  It's about stepping up to take responsibility, personal responsibility, because you're going to be accountable to the goal and social responsibility because you are working for a goal that will benefit others.  It is about the practice of values that make you someone that people want to follow, they give you credibility.  Those are things available to everyone.  Change has always come from the leadership of many people, not just leadership of the few especially those in power.

My focus is to help inspire more people find new leadership possibilities within themselves and their communities. 

This new generation coming of age definitely wants to step up and make a difference.  We find that this generation is more engaged in service than prior generations to their communities.  They are more tolerant of diversity.  They are more diverse themselves.  Technology has flattened access to information and lowered the barrier of entry for people to get engaged.

The question of entitlement - all people have the ability and power to step up and lead.  There are some people who believe they should be able to walk in and take charge.  Leadership is not about being in charge.  Leadership is something you earn by your values and practice and the responsibilities you take on.

The Occupy Movement has been a demonstration of the leadership of the many.  At the same time for their long-term success to sustain what they're doing, it will take some level of organization and at some point some kind of authority.  The leadership of the many on one hand means that everyone can step up and make a difference.  It does not mean that there is also not a need for leaders.

Leadership values are more important than leadership skills.  One of the models I talk about in the book is the Army's Leadership Manual which is defined as “Be, know, do.”  Be: who are you as a leader?  What are the values that guide you?  What is your personal mission?  How do you work with others? Once you get the first part straight, then you need to get the knowledge and skills to achieve that mission to put those values into practice. 

I think too often leadership development  is seen as focusing on skills, networks, power and things like that.  As a result people learn how to network with people in power or they learn management skills. 

Leadership is not the same as management.  Leadership does require values.  Today the community leaders are the ones who see the half full side of the glass as well as the half empty side.  They are realistic about the challenges and problems.  They don't walk away from them but they also see the opportunities and possibilities often in people in communities where no one else sees them. 
  • They are people who are inclusive and make sure that their table has the right voices and different voices. 
  • They are people who are collaborative.  They know how to bring people together. 
  • They are folks who are constantly learning and they have integrity.  They hold themselves accountable to the people they work with and the people they serve. 
Those are the values that are needed to guide leaders today.  A lot of the cynicism about leadership today in society comes from the fact that people see leaders not practicing values or being contradictory or practicing hypocrisy. But when people see leaders who are grounded in a set of values, that is what inspires people to follow. 

People had a lot of hope before the last election but the reality of the economy is a big challenge.  Young people are finding the economy very difficult for them.  The stagnation of politics, for example super committees, filibuster proof majority's, the mechanics of Washington becoming more important has turned people off. 

Ohio and Wisconsin are examples of states where people are not just walking away from the political process.  Both the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party Movement show that people are getting engaged.  I would argue that we have a more engaged public now than at any time during the last decade. 

The occupy movement, the recall efforts and the tea party indicate a great desire among young people to make a difference. 

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