The Washington area needs an infusion of new leadership. No, this isn't an election year call to "throw the rascals out." The new leadership referred to here has nothing to do with public office-holders. It has to do with private leadership -- the cadre of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who assume responsible roles in our civic, social, economic and political affairs.
It's the business executive who chairs the board of a local museum. It's the working mother who heads a PTA group. It's the doctor who organizes a free health clinic. It's the engineer who conceives of a high-tech science fair. It's the scores of men and women who voluntarily take the reins of local groups and community institutions -- the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Cultural Alliance, the Washington Urban League, the Heart Fund, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Rotary Club, Studio Theatre, Red Cross and Young Audiences, just to mention a few.
These are not career posts. Participants do not earn an income from these efforts. They contribute their time, their expertise, their interest -- and sometimes their money. The organizations derive help from these individuals that money can't buy.
Why, then, do we need an infusion of new leaders? Are those we have deficient in some way? Are they getting tired or becoming uninterested? Are there not enough to do the jobs that need to be done?
No metropolitan area, ours included, ever has an oversupply of leaders to perform the countless tasks that stand before it. But no area can sustain these efforts without adding new blood, cultivating the up-and-comers and passing the mantles of leadership to a younger generation of citizens. This is a question that the Washington area now faces. And we will be wise to think about whether we're encouraging and developing the local leaders of tomorrow.
My fear is that we may be failing in that responsibility. And the reasons are becoming clearer every day.
People today, by and large, are more interested in themselves, their careers and the pleasures of a generally abundant society. The work ethic has changed. Getting has replaced giving. Feeling entitled to the benefits of the community gets preference over being engaged in the hard work that results in much of the bounty there for the taking.
In the process, there is a tendency simply to take the local area for granted. The result is twofold: first, the area begins to drift with increasingly less certainty about its future direction; and, second, we appear less understanding of the need for the leadership that helps shape and guide the area's future.
We who have shouldered leadership are part of the problem as well. We haven't done nearly enough to identify and nurture budding new leaders. We have been better at preaching than preparing. And in so doing we are passing on narcissism rather than responsibility.
Our local institutions and organizations do not exist in perpetuity. Their continued existence and effectiveness will be in direct proportion to the source of new talent and leadership coming up through the ranks. As they say in professional sports, we need to be assured that we have some "depth on the bench." Equally important, we need to let them see some action on the playing field. Our current leadership will not endure forever.
We cannot leave it to happenstance that leadership for our vital community organizations will appear magically. We need to adopt a point of view that says finding and growing new leaders is as important a task for our present local leaders as any they currently have. And that means reaching out to welcome new blood, creating opportunities for this talent to assume responsibility early on, and rewarding the doers by pushing them toward the top.
Perhaps it is appropriate for us to adopt a program to fit this point of view. Such a program might join the schools, religious groups and local organizations in discussions about the needs for leaders and ways in which they can be brought forward. Too many people are simply unaware of the existence of many institutions that need voluntary leaders. Others who may know of them are unaware of their needs for regenerative leadership. And still others who have a desire to play a role may feel that the chances of rising to positions of leadership are minimal because some organizations are perceived as "cozy little clubs."
There should be an allocation of time and resources by organizations throughout Greater Washington -- in their self-interest and in the region's best interest -- to put the nurturing of new leadership high on the agenda. Doing this will not only be an investment in the future of this great region -- but also possibly one of the toughest challenges our present local leaders have faced in a long time.