Teri Orr: Knowing when to follow
Leadership is one of those words so overused and a concept under acted upon. There are endless books addressing it and seminars and workshops to teach it and people who profess to be experts in it.
There are folks who aspire to be leaders simply because it sounds like power and they are hungry for it. Those are the dangerous ones. They damage the initial trust given them with their desire to control and manipulate those who placed trust in desired authentic leadership.
Real leadership is often messy and unpopular. It is standing up to bullies and being patient with educating folks to the subject at hand. It is long nights and broad learning curves. It can be wildly unpopular in the heat of the moment. Many times it is both terribly brave and exceedingly lonely.
Being in a room and watching the seamless transition of power and authority even in a small town, perhaps especially in a small town, can be humbling … inspiring. You don’t have to like all the players or agree with them or the outcome of each individual race in a season that offered multiple changes. But what we can remember is their enormous commitment to “doing good” and like a doctor — “first due no harm.”
This week in a light-filled room at the Park City Library, we the people watched a new mayor installed, along with a new council member added and a reelected council member be sworn in to serve. And to lead. It was a theme carefully chosen and expanded upon — first by the emcee for the event, former three-term Mayor Brad Olch. He said he had learned three things in his years in public service (he was also on the Park City Council). Once elected you need to — “listen carefully, vote your conscience, and remember people voted for you to lead.”
In addition to my current job, I have spent my time in Park City largely sitting in meetings being a scribe in various ways — as a reporter and columnist for nearly 40 years. It can be tedious and inspiring depending upon both the real events taking place and those imagined and how hungry I might be stuck in a room too warm or too cold for my personal preference. It matters who is sitting next to me and whether or not they are there to observe or protest or simply out of boredom. (Yes, there are kinda government groupies.)
Judge Shauna Kerr set the right Park City tone for the installation with her trademark humor. A veteran of government and politics, Kerr served as, first, City Attorney for Park City, then as a city council member and, finally, as a county councilor, before becoming a judge. She has had a lifetime of public service. And after Andy Beerman was elected — he knew he wanted her to do the swearing in.
Andy’s parents had made the trip to be there — from the Midwest — a Mennonite background as I recall. He said, “They taught me to serve the community.” Outside the glass-walled room a tow-haired toddler ran quietly up and down the hallway. It might have been a younger Andy looking at his future … or the son of someone who had proudly voted for this Andy to be Mayor. At some point someone scooped up the boy who dissolved into giggles. It was so sweet and simple I lost track of the room I was in.
Which happened again for me — the very next night at the first full meeting of the new council and Mayor. In attendance were the members of the Planning Commission for a joint session on a giant project more than 30 years in the making and unmaking and remaking. Planning Chairman Adam Strachan had been speaking. In seats on the side of the room another planning commissioner sat with his two quiet but wiggly children. Adam told the council he wanted to invite John to his seat to speak and he would move over and “parent for a minute.”
It was a little thing that felt like a high thing…
We have become kinder in so many ways and more open to the messy stuff of wanting to serve and participate and still wanting/needing to parent. In Andy’s talk he had stated he was excited to address the need for Social Equity in our community. It was said with such conviction you know he means to back it up. Because all our efforts to improve transportation issues and green building issues and open space and land use and water delivery and all those other important and very, very dry topics of government will mean little if we forget how to care for each other. If we don’t find the ways to lift each other up to make certain the youngest and the oldest have safe places to live. And if we don’t take tackle the messy teenage problems of substance abuse and depression and bullying — we will have no one who will want to lead when we need them.
We have a remarkable town. With committed folks in so very many positions — elected, appointed, even hired to serve. What we sometimes lack is the vision and fearlessness to lead. It is rarely popular and always at great personal cost. What we have right now is a moment to recommit with Andy and the new (renewed) council members to all find fresh ways to serve and lead — right where we are. In a tiny town in the middle of the Southwestern part of the United States free falling on a planet where the future is certainly uncertain.
We are not the center of the universe but we are in the center of our own universe, and with determined leadership it can be a pretty sweet spot any day especially a Sunday in the Park…
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I must admit that, although I have felt much love wherever I hung my hat during this life, I never felt more at home in a new cultural environment than on my first trip down that coastline.