There are numerous discussions, punditry, and commentary about what the incoming President, Joseph R. Biden, and his administration must do to unite the country. What leadership skills or tactics must be deployed to close a widening divide or fracture within our electorate and/or citizenry. Well, I’m here to tell you, there is NOTHING the Biden Administration can do. The task of creating unity is up to We the People.
I certainly do not mean there is nothing the administration can do. We should expect those who are elected officials to fulfill the oath of office. We should expect all in the administration to follow the laws of our land. We should expect them to execute their role with competence. We should expect them to lead by example and be role models of excellence in their respective position. We should expect them to govern with the needs of all of the American people and humanity as the driving force in law creating and policymaking. That’s where it ends and whatever they do, it requires us to do our part in order to truly create unity.
Leadership begins with self, especially in a free, open society. Each and every one of us must start by going inward. Here are three things we can do today that will help us begin to create a space for unity:
We must take a self-inventory: All good leaders start with a self-inventory of their knowledge, skills, and abilities. They take an honest self-assessment to determine where their strengths lie and where they have opportunities for development. When was the last time you took a self-inventory of your knowledge of America? When was the last time you brushed up on the constitution? In a 2019 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, only 1 in 5 Americans (22%) could name a branch of government. There are only three - executive, judicial, and congressional. How can you hold your elected officials accountable if you don’t know who they are or the role of the branch in which they work? Once you’ve taken a self-inventory and identify your opportunity gaps, then it is incumbent upon you to get to work, educate yourself, challenge yourself, and persistently pursue knowledge which is a hallmark of great leaders. Once you’ve taken a self-inventory, then you can reach out to others with open arms to build together.
We must be accountable and responsible for one another: Last week I did a video on the nuanced difference between being accountable and responsible. Leaders are both. We the people must be accountable for our actions and the impact of our actions and decisions in the context of the larger community. We must be responsible for the way we interact with and care for the larger community. If we are not accountable and responsible to our neighbors, how can we expect those in the administration to be? Accountability and responsibility begin and ends with each of us. There are times when being accountable is painful and being responsible is difficult but as leaders in civil society, we must make the painful and difficult choices every day. This might mean calling out behavior that is not consistent with our ideals. This might mean challenging long-held beliefs. This might mean helping others who do not look like us. Yet, these are the obligations of leadership.
We must practice the platinum rule: The golden rule is to treat others as you would like to be treated. The platinum rule is to treat others the way they want to be treated. In order to practice the platinum rule, we must get to know the people around us and with whom we come into contact every day. When was the last time you spoke to your neighbor? When was the last time you engaged in a conversation with someone you work with about something other than work? One of the reasons we are so divided is that we do not know each other. We’ve stayed away from hard conversations and dwelled in our own echo chambers that reinforce our biases about “the other.” We are all humans on this journey and are more alike than different. While the differences may be glaring we know that what we focus on will grow. We’ve spent way too much time focusing on the differences versus the sameness. We must get back to community building one relationship at a time, one conversation at a time.
We must follow: Great leaders are first great followers. We must follow the tenets of our democratic republic laid out in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. The preamble does not state I, me, or mine. It does not ask us to follow one man, woman, or political ideology. And while it was written at a time when Blak people, Indigenous people, or women were considered as equal, it has always been an ideal for us to follow and aspire. It calls for us all to play our part as citizens.
As we look forward to the new administration, how they will govern, the policies they will implement, and how they will come together to guide us in the formation of a more perfect union, we must remember as citizens, It is incumbent upon us to create unity in our schools, churches, and communities. The preamble of the constitution starts off with WE THE PEOPLE. Not the President or any cabinet Secretary but WE. So, what are we going to do to help lead this administration in order for them to lead us?