The other day, I heard Paula Cole’s song, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone,” in which she lamented the disappearance of chivalry and decency in relationships between men and women. As I consider myself somewhat of a Weird Al knock-off, I began tinkering with the lyrics, and found myself changing the words to “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?” The disappearance of leadership qualities among our elected officials has disgraced our governmental system, leaving constituents and me with little more than frustration and distrust.
This lack of leadership became much more obvious during the debates and back-room arguments over whether or not Congress should raise the U.S. debt ceiling. Regardless of who was primarily responsible for the ensuing fiasco, reasonable people can agree that nearly all of our elected officials in Washington have been shirking their responsibilities for years. Leaders must make difficult choices that are not poll-driven, but choices that are based on facts and circumstances grounded in real time.
In an attempt to gain some positive perspective, I began to explore the concept of leadership in more depth. As both an active, contributing member of society and as a father of three small children, I wanted to determine how we can hold our leaders better accountable and how we go about developing the next generation of leaders. This is not an exhaustive list of suggestions or advice; it’s meant to be the beginning of a discussion that I hope occurs in every household, community, state, and in our nation’s capitol.
The best way to hold our elected officials accountable is to obtain better leadership skills ourselves.
Know the issues. Take time to understand the facts surrounding important issues before you comment or vote. Use reliable news sources and go beyond “infotainment,” or journalism for entertainment’s sake. Seek out different news outlets online and in print, one of my favorites is Bloomberg.com. Learn some basic concepts in economics and finance.
Vote. We’ve all seen that elections have consequences. Vote for individuals who want to fix the system, not destroy it from within. Turnover in government can be a good thing. No elected official should make an entire career in politics – it’s corrupting. It becomes too easy for representatives to lose touch with their constituents whom they should be serving. If current and future generations crave change, we must become a block that votes en mass, or else we will settle for the status quo.
Find your passion. If you are doing something that you love and feel strongly about, you stand a better chance of becoming a leader naturally. Leadership demands passion and care about the work you’re doing or the goal you’re trying to achieve. Passion inspires people to join your cause and to help you succeed.
Listen before you speak. Listening is a vital leadership skill that can be developed and improved. Great leaders tend to listen to all sides of an issue before they speak from their own perspectives. When they do choose to speak, they ask questions that get to root causes of important issues.
Find a mentor or coach. Having talked with many successful leaders in business, non-profits, and education, I’ve learned that one thing they all have in common is the existence of a mentor or coach. I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors throughout my life who have helped make me a better person. A mentor doesn’t have to be an elder, but should be someone with rich enough experience to be beneficial. Seek out mentors in different places: your past schools, work environments, networking groups, and be open to new possible places.
As we hone these leadership skills in ourselves, it’s important to remember that we also need to think about transferring these skills to future generations. How can we adults create a new generation of leaders from among today’s children?
Teach Leadership Skills in schools. The ability to lead people is an important life skill that should be part of a well-rounded education. The military systematically teaches leadership skills with great success. Their model should be studied and replicated in any school that wants to incorporate leadership skills as part of the curriculum. Leaders respect other individuals, which could decrease bullying and school violence.
Engage in Experiential Learning. Parents should think beyond traditional schooling and rote memorization and give children opportunities to participate in experiential learning. This will help children develop decision-making and creative problem solving skills, which are essential traits of effective leaders. Go and read “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards” by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Diane Eyer for more information.
Include Children in Discussions. Children are smart and perceptive, and if they are given a chance to offer opinions on important family issues, they often surprise us with their ability to understand. Letting children participate in discussions helps them gain confidence, improve speaking skills, and feel like a valued member of the family. Our most recent example of this was when my eldest daughter, Lily, began asking questions about 9/11. The questions ranged from the simple to the sophisticated. By explaining to her what happened and why, she was able to comprehend, not be scared and a lesson was learned in the process.
Become a mentor. As I stated above, mentors and coaches can have a profound influence on their protégés. Many of us have a wealth of experience worthy of sharing with others. As a parent, I am painfully aware that, sometimes, important life messages resonate more with children when they come from someone other than me. There are all sorts of opportunities to mentor in the community and non-profit organizations are desperate for help and leadership.
I’m fortunate that I have an opportunity to participate as a current fellow in Leadership Delaware. This year-long experience is providing me with all of the suggestions I’ve outlined here and much more. I’ve gained new mentors from among high-achieving classmates, an impressive advisory board, and executive leadership from Terry and Sandy Strine. I only wish that I could have had access to an experience like this earlier in my professional life, and I recommend that any aspiring leader check out the program. At any rate, I’ll be sharing the skills that I learn with my own children in the hopes that they become great leaders in their own time.
Michael Sicuranza, CFP, AEP is a principal at Milestone Wealth Advisors, a comprehensive wealth management firm located in Greenville, Delaware and a current fellow at Leadership Delaware Inc.