Everyday Leaders

November 7, 2012

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With so much research, thinking, and writing on the topic of leadership, I sometimes wonder if we are getting any closer to really understanding it? I wonder if ordinary people recognize that they have the capacity to be leaders too?

Then along comes a force of nature, superstorm Hurricane Sandy, and we get a very clear idea of leadership in action.

For example, look at the Spanish club students at Franklin Township High School in Somerset, New Jersey, who noticed that gasoline was getting scarce so they developed an app to find out where the gasoline was in your part of the state.

Look at the two women in Hopewell Township who formed a storm relief effort to collect food and clothing for victims of the storm.

The list goes on and on.  Neighbor helping neighbor. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things when the need arose. That's leadership.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis once said that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. What that means, I think, is that a leader is one who sees a need and takes steps to do something about it.

The vision Bennis mentions could be the acute awareness of the suffering of others such as residents of Jersey Shore towns whose homes were destroyed and possessions washed away in the storm surge.

The reality Bennis mentions could be the action plans developed and implemented to provide help in a time of great need. Even innovative help like the app to find gas stations with fuel.

In sum, leaders step up to challenges and take action.

Perhaps the clearest example of leadership in action, provided during this past week of storm-related news, was the meet-up between NJ Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, and President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

In the hour of need, both men showed us what leadership looks like.

They were able to set aside partisan differences and come together in mutual solidarity. They joined forces at the Jersey Shore to tour several towns devastated by Sandy and show their unified support for the victims and for the responders involved in the recovery effort.

Christie thanked the president, saying that they had a "great working relationship" and that the president had "sprung into action immediately."

Although Christie had recently given a fiery speech at the Republican convention, severely criticizing Obama and his administration, and Obama was in the midst of a fierce election drive against his Republican opponent, both were able to set aside their differences and come together.

At the risk of upsetting his own party, Christie added, "I just want to thank him for his concern and compassion, his extraordinary leadership."

Let's put it together:  Sensing the need. Stepping up. Doing what's right. Speaking the truth. Putting aside differences. Working together for the common good.

That's leadership.