President Immerman’s Article in North of Boston Business Magazine

June 25, 2014

Great leaders earn the trust of people
by Montserrat College of Art President Steve Immerman

We are blessed on the North Shore with exceptional leadership across every aspect of our business and community environments. According to the Essex County Community Foundation, there are an estimated 18 to 20,000 volunteer trustees and directors serving the not-for-profit community in Essex County. This extraordinary number of volunteer leaders does not include the countless number of volunteers leading youth sports, or the number of people serving on community committees in their towns or volunteering at schools and churches. If you also include the number of civic, municipal, and business leaders serving in our communities, the volume of individuals helping to make the North Shore a better place to live, learn, and work is truly remarkable.

Leadership is important. It matters. We all recognize it when it is good, and we all know it when it is lacking. As humans, we are “wired” to sense authenticity. We are drawn to the charismatic, but are less able to predict competence in advance of evidence of deeds over inspiring words. We want to believe the best about the people who lead but can be disappointed or and sometimes cynical when we hear news of the latest fall from grace or learn of a violation of trust, public or private.

Trust is central to effective leadership. The development and stewardship of trust are primary responsibilities of all leaders. Trust is tested in every interaction, and once lost, very difficult, if not impossible to regain. We expect a lot of our leaders, perhaps not being entirely fair when we fail to recognize that everyone has “feet of clay”.

Leadership, too often equated with position, is actually more accurately defined by relationships (Rost, J. C. (1993). Leadership for the 21st century. We consent to being led, at work, in our volunteer organizations, and by our public officials. It is this relationship, when capably shared, that helps create the amazing, the remarkable, and the heroic as well as the day-to-day hard work of carrying forward our collective goals and aspirations. Therefore we invest our hopes, dreams and aspirations, in our leaders. Because of that tendency, we are emotionally linked to them potentially expecting more of them than we might expect of ourselves.

After all each of us is a leader in her or his own right. It is easy to forget that we first must lead ourselves through our own daily lives and our own goals and objectives. In our families, volunteer organizations, recreational pursuits, and work places, we all take initiative, solve problems, and collaborate. Almost everyone, every day must work to find the balance between our own individual needs and the needs of the groups of which we are a part. Leadership is most often exercised when our individual needs come in conflict with the needs of the group or the collective. Someone needs to steward the process by which consensus is achieved, and someone needs to eventually decide among competing priorities.

Because there are always unlimited wants and needs and there are always limited resources, conflict is inevitable. We all see the scenario of this kind of conflict displayed in our local and national politics. Individual rights vs. states rights or the rights of our respective states vs. federal control and regulation are the grist of many political and judicial battles. This essential tension designed into our constitutional form of government requires the kind of effective leadership described above in order to reasonably navigate the inevitable public disagreements about policy and the distribution of resources we read about in the news every day.

The current political dysfunction in our national government is abundant evidence of the importance of competent leadership. So, when our local communities, volunteer organizations, schools, businesses, and civic leaders get it right (which most times they do) let’s all take a moment to reflect on the value of the leadership we enjoy on the North Shore and appreciate their good work. Leadership matters. It is important.