Sunday, August 9, 2009
Address to the Louisiana Police Jurors Association
Topic: Renewing Trust in Leadership
7 August 2009, Ritz Carrollton Hotel
New Orleans, Louisiana
I would like to begin by thanking all of you for the opportunity to return this esteemed gathering and to speak to the members of this association.
To begin this speech, I turn to a quote:
"The great challenge facing the nation today is to solve this pressing problem and bring into full realization the ideas and dreams of our democracy. How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our political health as a nation and our prestige as a leader of the free world."
If anyone thought those words to be current, only because they seem to have a degree of appropriateness for our times, then that person would have to be forgiven. The fact is those words are forty-nine years old, spoken by a humble minister who became a lightning rod for change. In his time, he used those words to stress our banding together, as a people and as a country, to overcome a most perplexing problem, one that stretched as far back in time as the founding of this nation. Today I echo his words as a reminder to every person in this room that, though today’s challenges seem great, we have, indeed, overcome greater ones.
That brings me right to the doorstep of my topic for you today: renewing trust in leadership.
Admittedly, when I was asked to give this address, I had no clue what I was going to say to you, the men and women elected to lead the communities of this state. Leadership in any community, let alone the African-American community, is a rich and sprawling subject, filled with a litany of angles. For a while, I was stuck. That is, until I turned to my Creator for guidance, and from those prayers what I realized was that, on any given day of my life, I face the reality of the subject about which I am speaking today.
The fact is ours is a world changed. In less than one year, the strength of our financial system has been rocked to its core, and that has instigated a real-economy crisis that is touching the homes of every one of us, regardless of race. To put this into perspective, you need only to consider the fact that the ramifications of September 18, 2009, were far more costly to this country than the full total of September 11, 2001. Elsewhere, our schools are under great strain, just as the global economy is gearing up; and while children in Bangalore and in Beijing are prepping for a new day, our students are dropping out - over an unbelievable, six million children between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four, including one in every five black students in America! And our streets and homes are ablaze with violence, so much so, in fact, that every day we turn on the news in this city only to hear about another swathe of murderous behavior. Indeed, America in so many ways seems as though it has lost its footing!
It would seem that we need leadership; but that only beckons a question: where are our leaders? Are they the men and women we see hauled off in handcuffs for graft and corruption? Are they the ones who carelessly and selfishly lie to the people for their own profit and vaingloriousness? Well, of course they are not; and yet, to a world faced with many challenges, those seem to be all there is.
In truth, the real leaders of our communities, the ones who offer true hope, are those like the men and women in this room; those who genuinely care for the future of those they shepherd. These leaders - you among them – understand the calling upon your life, and serve selflessly.
This is truly a great calling, isn’t it? You know that you are among a blessed lot, don’t you? Our Creator has granted you the favor to use your talents in a way that impacts lives. Of course, in times as interesting as these, answering this call from a higher power cannot be easy. The challenges that affect our communities are numerous and course deeply, and people have lost faith in those meant to make a difference. This is true in every facet of our lives and in almost every institution, from the religious world to government, from the non-profit sector to business. So damaged is a fundamental trust that we cannot easily right our course, overcome our challenges, and improve our future, until it is addressed. But it must be remembered that, even though these challenges seems hard, we have overcome greater ones.
Renewing trust in leadership is at the center of our ability to make progress. After all, cynicism is toxic, and it can and will hamper any progress we can make. Therefore, as I speak to you today, I pray that I can give you the instruction necessary to renew the trust of your own communities, so that you can build the bonds necessary to meet their unique challenges.
· Embrace and get to know the many diverse members of your flock.
Perhaps it is important that we come to know and understand our communities, and develop and sustain genuine bonds with them. After an election, the door-to-door and face-to-face discourse cannot stop. Town halls are a great way to facilitate this need.
You have to cultivate the lines of communications that put you in touch with your voters’ needs. And this is important, because, as is often the case, if you disconnect from them, the issue that impact their lives might just escape you.
Remember this: know your voters, listen to their concerns, understand their plight, celebrate their triumphs, and become a sincere part of the lives that you impact.
· Support educational and continuous-learning initiatives.
This is an imperative, and to illustrate this point, I am going to simply paraphrase the words from New York Times writer, Thomas Friedman: when he was a child, at dinner, his parents told him to eat his vegetables, because there were hungry children in China. Now he tells his daughter to do her homework, because there were children in China who want her job.
We need to urge young people to believe that they can truly get beyond the circumstances of their lives, and that they can capitalize on their ambitions. They need to hear this. They need to know that someone cares. Therefore, it is, of course, our responsibility to step up to the plate.
· Work with not-for-profit and business interests.
There has been this general fallacy in the corridors of government, a silent fallacy that seems to say that politicians alone are tasked with solving today’s challenges. This simply is not true. As a businessman, I can tell you that we are all impacted by the same problems, and we all have ideas about the solutions.
In this time, we all know that government cannot do it alone, and that we cannot tax or spend our way to workable solutions - not all the time, and not while our needs in so many areas are so great but resources so limited. This is when you need us. When your coffers run dry - call on us. We are here, and we are ready to help. Together, we all - business, government, and non-profit - can devise solutions that go far beyond what we've seen in the past, solutions that can make a real difference.
· Develop workable plans with tangible benchmarks.
The age of lofty words has expired. Now people do not want, nor do they even deserve, empty promises. Today, as a leader of any time, you better have a succinct plan.
This does not mean that “the vision thing” is not important. In fact, you need to articulate your vision clearly and fully, but with it, you need to act on them boldly. After all, you must remember that people are impatient, and they often need to see progress. Therefore, it is important that your plans for action can deliver effective and notable change, if you ever hope to remind in the good graces of those men and women who enter the polls.
· Lead by example.
I am going to share with all of you the words by which I live. They come from Matthew 5:16, and they read, “Shine as a light, so that others will glorify God…”
Do you get it? It means that this great calling is not for your own benefit. It is for the benefit of those you serve, and more importantly, it is for the glory of a much higher power.
As I close this address, I return to some additional words from that humble minister:
“…We shall have to create leaders who embody virtue we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally support for them based on confidence and trust.”
He was absolutely right then and now. This is a prescription for renewal; this is how we will begin to overcome the challenges of our time. And again, while those challenges might seem great, in the history of this great nation, we have overcome greater ones.
Ladies and gentleman, thank you greatly for your time.
Posted by Gary C. Harrell