Leadership in Turbulent Times
Perhaps it was inevitable that the election of 2020 would not produce a simple path forward that might have provided comfort in turbulent times. Instead, as we move to the final chapter of this election season, we must begin the process of unifying the nation and charting a course that addresses the needs, aspirations, fears, and hopes of all Americans. Such unity cannot come from a single speech or new set of policy ideas; instead, it must come from people coming together, listening to one another, and building trust and a sense of common purpose.
At times like these, I find myself reflecting on FDR’s speech about the four freedoms, two of which were freedom from want and freedom from fear. So much of what we have seen of today’s divisiveness is driven by the dramatic decline in livable wages as well as workers’ fear for their future security and sustainability in a rapidly changing economy. Healing the nation also entails taking the bold steps necessary to guarantee every family, every worker freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Leadership will be necessary in private life—from our community, religious, and civic organizations. Anyone with a voice and a passion can make themselves heard on a small or large scale and help unite their communities.
Such a moment demands bold and compassionate leadership. Certainly, our political leaders—federal, state, and local and from across the aisle—have a crucial role to play in bringing our nation together and addressing our fundamental needs and fears. But so, too, do leaders from all sectors and from all walks of life. Leaders of companies, which have an increasing impact on their employees’ well-being; leaders of educational institutions and nonprofits, which serve the most vulnerable in our society; and leaders of philanthropies and investment companies, which can seed equity-driven innovation for the next generation.
Leaders can—and must—also emerge from within these organizations, from frontline workers to union representatives. Leadership will be necessary in private life—from our community, religious, and civic organizations. Anyone with a voice and a passion can make themselves heard on a small or large scale and help unite their communities.
What do leaders need to do at this moment?
Recognize individual experiences: Equally important to making our voice heard is ensuring that we listen to other voices. Understand that everyone is processing this moment in history differently. While for some, it is just another election gone by, for many others, fundamental questions of race and racism, socioeconomic and immigration status, and the impact of the pandemic and recession have been viscerally present throughout. Leaders should encourage everyone to take the necessary time and space to reflect and recenter.
As the leader of JFF, I pledge to engage and push for action of sufficient scale and impact to match the challenges of this moment.
Bring people together to find common values: Our nation will be stronger if we can turn down the partisan rhetoric and attempt to listen and to find common ground and values. Leaders can lead with empathy and set the tone and provide the space for sustained dialogue. A deep desire for a better future and the opportunity for all to live a meaningful life likely unites the staunchest Trump and Biden supporters. The importance of providing individuals with educational opportunities and pathways to meaningful work that pays family sustaining wages should likewise find common purpose. Dialogue establishing common values and purpose does not solve all of our disagreements, but it allows us to work from a place where we can recognize the humanity and the goodwill of those with whom we have differences.
Move to action: This is a defining moment in history. We are called to navigate through health and economic crises; to address the longstanding systemic racial injustices that have come to the fore this year; and to build the foundation of a more equitable society for the next generation. Leaders must emerge with bold ideas, a bias toward action, and a willingness to engage in the real work of driving progress.
As the leader of JFF, I pledge to engage and push for action of sufficient scale and impact to match the challenges of this moment. In the years and elections to come, I want to be able to look back knowing that I stepped up to meet this moment with empathy, an eye on unity, and a bias for action.