Leadership is either being ascribed to many celebrities or being sought by many. The authentic leadership potential resides within the core of each citizen. All that is required is for citizens to actualize their citizenship responsibilities.
Leadership is not contained in a single Messianic personality. It is an attribute for action which has to be actualized in citizens based upon their responsibility to the government, community and other citizens. Leaders may choose a spokesman like Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King may have been a leader, but he was a spokesman for a mass of leaders who didn’t necessarily follow as much as join together to fulfill their responsibilities.
President Obama and his team led their campaign for the presidency byenlisting citizen leaders to join them in recruiting more potential citizen leaders, not followers, to have the opportunity of electing the next president of the United States. A president can only lead the United States executive office with assistance from legislative and judicial leadership. The governmental leadership can only lead the country with citizen leaders supporting, challenging and communicating with them.
Citizen leaders are those who activate the responsibility of their citizenship by committing themselves to the values and deeds that lead to the betterment of themselves and other citizens. It is assumed that a citizen leader behaves with a respect for duty, equality, courage, transparency, civility, tolerance and honesty. A citizen is a potential catalyst for democratic action and positive change.
As citizen leaders, we must seek to ascertain our condition. This task requires us to learn from every data source available to us (i.e. our family, friends and elected and appointed officials) as well as various media. We have a responsibility to draw attention to what we know and share with others so that they can address shared goals. Citizen leaders should organize to work formally and informally to achieve desired goals. The tools available to us are votes, voter registration, contact with our appointed and elected officials, finances and communication. Support of efforts to achieve shared visions and goals are needed. We can use technologies such as the Internet and informal means such as conversations with friends and neighbors.
We must recognize that we are all in this big ship together. If our neighbors home is burning it is apt to affect us. We are all dependent on each other. We must actualize our leadership potential for our survival. We can’t wait for a Messiah, a spokesman who will arise from our joint efforts. We must depend on ourselves to behave responsibly and join with others to address our own visions.
Citizen leaders must be both sensitive and vigilant enough to recognize the dangers and opportunities available to them. We have the right to advocate, agitate, participate, serve, create consensus and share resources. Citizenship in a democracy is far morevital than under a monarchy or dictatorship. It is up to the citizen leader to make that privilege, responsibility and opportunity a reality. The leadership many of us are seeking lies within us. We need only ignite the flame within ourselves.
No single person can emulate the power we already collectively possess . Our collective power is more authentic and greater than any one person can wield.
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeretis for MU.