Leadership That Is Rooted Is Real

“You have to root your leadership in who you are.” – Minnesota State Rep. Erin Murphy.

I don’t know who Rep. Murphy is but this quote—which I stumbled upon while cruising Twitter— stopped me in my tracks.

That’s it!

In 10 words, she’s nailed the essence of authentic leadership. The best leaders, the ones who break through the clutter, the nastiness, the mediocrity and the mud are those who root their leadership in who they are as people.

That’s what the great artists do as well. And folks, leadership is an art.

It’s also a rarity.

When storms hit Florida I often flash back to the hurricanes we faced when I served as mayor. Like every other newsworthy event, the politics can be fraught after a nasty natural disaster. Who is going to yell the loudest so they can be seen as championing the interests of their constituents?

It’s politics as theater…

So you see press conferences with people claiming that the power company is giving their city attention over all others because Mayor Windbag and Commissioner Loud Mouth are “fighting” for their citizens.

It’s really b.s.

While sometimes theater is useful as a tool to make a point or get needed attention, grandstanding is a whole other thing.

So partisanship aside, that’s why Senators from both parties looked like fools during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. It’s a race for the best sound bite, led by politicians who are seeking attention, donations, positioning and publicity and the public sees right through it. Which is why people don’t trust politicians and that’s sad because politics should be a noble pursuit and a public service not a blood sport in which nothing gets done.

Which is why real leadership stands out. You know it when you see it. We hunger for it and once we experience it, the emptiness of any other kind of “leadership” is a stark reminder of what could be.

That emptiness…that void…is what the line in Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson” references when he sings “Where you have gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns it lonely eyes to you.”

Well, sadly, Joltin Joe has left and gone away.

So it is our task to find the next wave of true, authentic leaders; not empty suits with manufactured resumes and poll-tested taglines or opportunists blowing dog whistles because they think sowing fear is the key to success.

Real leadership is rooted in who you are.

So I want people who are willing to share.

I want people who have lived, succeeded and failed—especially those who have failed because failure teaches you and allows you to grow.

I don’t want bullies—bullies can’t lead. They can disrupt and destroy. They can tear down and demolish, but they cannot lead.

I don’t want those who have all the answers and so therefore they aren’t interested in being educated.

I don’t want those who care about optics, or keep their own counsel or think they are the smartest people in every room.

I do want those who hunger for knowledge—not just the latest theories, but history too.

History is so important and we often give it short shrift.

I want independent minded people who make their decisions devoid of handlers—but only after they have consulted all sides, gathered information and wrestled to find the best answers.

I want those who can express gratitude—who don’t consider appreciation a weakness or somehow beneath them.

I want people strong enough to demand accountability but also willing to admit mistakes and hold themselves accountable too.

These people exist.

But I fear that they will not venture anywhere close to the public square.

I just read a great edition of “Fortune” magazine which focused on the 100 most influential women in business. These extraordinary people did not rise to the top because of their gender, they are in leading positions because they are smart, accomplished leaders.

And I thought to myself as I read their stories about how incredible these people are; and how they would also make great Governors, Senators, Congressmen and Presidents.

Mayors too….mayors and council members are so important.

I’ve lived in South Florida for 31 years and I have gotten to know, observe and meet some really special people. Some have run for office—some have served, others lost elections. But most wouldn’t consider public office.

Not because they don’t have or could make the time. Not because they don’t care or don’t volunteer, but because the public square has too often become a dangerous, nasty and dare I say it—stupid place.

Petty fights, schoolyard bullies, nasty social media trolls—a ‘gotcha’ environment where people are more focused on “getting” their enemies then actually solving a community’s problems or seizing opportunities.

And unlike war, where you might be able to vanquish your enemy, in politics you win some elections and you lose others but the combatants stay engaged. Sometimes they fight from a position of power, sometimes they wage war from the outside.

But when your focus is on screwing the enemy, it can’t be on doing good in the world.


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