Everything from getting a gate put in at a dangerous rail crossing to strengthening local health care facilities to building an effective local law enforcement system — with capable police chiefs, dedicated judges and energetic prosecutors — demands that people step forward and lead. Strong leadership matters: to quality of life, to how well communities respond to challenges, and to how vital our communities are.
Being an active citizen matters, too, but as citizens we know that we depend heavily on good leaders to make our communities work. We rely on people to roll up their shirtsleeves at every level of our democracy, and we demand a great deal of them. We want them to set goals and motivate us. We expect them to plan, organize and manage effectively. We hope that they can take the disparate strands of our communities in hand and make sure they’re all pointed in the same direction. We look for a sort of tough-minded optimism, a conviction that “I can make a difference and so can you,” so that we’ll be inspired and energized by it.
That’s why communities pay so much attention to leadership development — to identifying and training young leaders who can make a difference to the places they live. Strong, capable, determined leadership provides the energy that improves the quality of life in a community and breathes life into our representative democracy.
One of the eternally refreshing gifts of our representative democracy is that it encourages people to solve problems in their community — to remember, as the saying goes, that democracy is not a spectator sport. Maybe they love where they live and want to make it better; maybe they have a child with special needs who is not being served well by the schools; perhaps they know in their hearts that they can do a better job than the people who are in charge right now. Whichever it is, people step forward — often out of nowhere — to take matters in hand. That’s what moves us forward as a society.