Great opinion piece by our president, Mark Murphy featured in the Star Ledger and The Times this past September. Have you read the article?
Mark M. Murphy Guest Columnist
In this season of national spectacle around the practice and meaning of leadership -yes, I refer to our presidential choices – before we each must stand alone in that voting booth and cast a ballot that will shape our country for decades ahead, we are wise to stand back a moment to take stock of leadership.
We here in New Jersey don’t have far to look: For 30 years our homegrown Lead New Jersey has been preparing and engaging cadres of executives from all sectors and backgrounds, now numbering some 1,500 strong, who exercise the discipline, caring and vision to make a difference in lives, communities and workplaces across our state. And through this vast experience we have gained a distinct point of view on this topic of who should lead, and how.
Each year at graduation our annual classes of Lead New Jersey Fellows stand before their peers and each individual finishes the sentence, “I lead when I … ”
To lead is to act. To see the opportunity where others see merely a condition, and to step lively into that fray.
In 2012, Lead NJ Fellow Leah Levine settled into a handicap-accessible seat on the train pulling out of MetroPark. She stroked the head of her constant companion, Linus the Service Dog, who helps her navigate when multiple sclerosis stutters her stride. So when the conductor ordered her to move, reciting that only seeing-eye dogs were allowed in those reserved seats, her eyes narrowed with the pain of yet another such misunderstanding -in clear violation of the American with Disabilities Act.
Cautiously taking up her new seat in the moving train, she couldn’t help but relive those awkward and demeaning moments when her appearance with Linus agitated rand confused shop owners, other patrons and officials of all sorts.
But then Levine opened her eyes -wide. And she went to work. Founding the nonprofit Animals At Work, Levine spent the next year and a half speaking to anyone who would listen of the importance of carefully trained service animals to assist a wide variety of individuals to live independently. And her witness caught on. She was eventually invited to testify, to comment on proposed legislation, and, finally, to attend the signing ceremony of the law that now guarantees full access. And oh, yes, Linus the Service Dog was also in attendance.
In 2015, LNJ Fellow Kim Vierheilig paced nervously before presenting to a peer review committee she knew would present problems. A talented architect, Vierheilig is devoted to designing public school buildings that provide the educational, spiritual and emotional environment so necessary for children to thrive.
As an LNJ Fellow she had researched best building design practices all over America and the world, and knew that creative use of space, windows, colors, textures and wall decor has been demonstrated to directly enhance student achievement by more than 20 percent -particularly in low-income communities saddled with older, crumbling schools.
Those in charge of controlling all construction projects said innovation would only lead to loss of control. Stick to what we know, they said, that’s the safe course.
But what is safe about accepting a lesser future for our kids? So Vierheilig drew in her breath and went straight at the “prudent” argument. Her proposals dove deep into comparative costs on a project basis; then rose back up to building design approval processes that would stream- line those approvals. It made her proposals not only cost-effective at the project level but administratively, too.
Yes, to lead takes courage. And the lesson we have learned at Lead New Jersey, confirmed every day by workers, parents, youth leaders, elected representatives, business executives and each of us, is, that to lead is to act.
Mark M. Murphy is president of Lead New Jersey, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing leaders to make New Jersey a better place to live and work. Learn more at http://www.leadnj.org.