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Grassroots Leadership – Invaluable in Any Circumstance

by Neil Rosenbaum

Grassroots leadership was not my original topic for this blog. I intended to write about how hungering for change and the presence of pain points can help leaders boost success. However, recent events and the Bat Mitzvah of the daughter of a close friend changed my perspective. This joyous occasion happened exactly one week after the horrific events in Pittsburgh. It closely followed the capture of the “package bomber” targeting adversaries of President Trump. It came in the midst of the seemingly endless, senseless, random shootings, some of which have targeted other religious groups or ethnicities.

Listening to news channels and politicians gives no sense of context or direction that matters. No one I speak to seems to have a cogent perspective that provides a direction towards any type of solution.

Gone are the credible, knowledgeable, and trustworthy newsmen like Walter Cronkite and others who guided us through the many crises we faced as a nation a generation ago.

Of course, this was before 24-hour news stations. Before the fight for ratings among an overcrowded television dial. Before the use of social media by political parties to whip up support through fear and anxiety.

As I sat yesterday watching a thirteen-year-old being welcomed into the community as an “adult,” I was inspired by her grassroots leadership ability. She eloquently and confidently discussed the attack on a Jewish synagogue, much like the one we were in, only seven days before. She had probably been working on this speech for months yet was able to adapt it in a few days. As she addressed the congregation, she was poised, confident, and unwilling to be afraid.

The young lady, now one of my role models, talked about the lessons learned during her Torah study in preparation for this life cycle weekend. The Torah portion for this week talked about the death of Sarah and what Abraham wanted to do to honor her life well-lived. In her speech, she talked about hope, caring, and the need to believe.

“This portion relates to this day and shows us how to treat others, strangers or family. Due to recent events in the news, this story applies now more than ever. People were victimized just because of their beliefs, just because others around them couldn’t accept them for who they are. The Hittites inspire us to treat people that are different than you, equally. To treat people similar to you equally, and to treat everyone with respect and kindness. You never know a person’s background or what they are going through deep down, but you can always brighten their day by being friendly and helping them out. The Hittites showed that no matter your relationship to any person or their race, ethnicity, gender, size and so on, you should treat everyone with kindness.”

At that moment, at 13 years of age, she was a valuable, important, grassroots leader.

Another young role model also helped me think constructively about the terrible events of recent weeks. This time, it was my middle daughter taking on the role of a grassroots leader. She lives in Detroit, an extremely diverse community. After attending a service commemorating the loss of eleven precious lives in Pittsburgh, she wrote on Facebook:

“Time and time again I find myself deeply inspired by the Detroit Jewish community’s commitment to bringing about justice and freedom, not just for our own people, but for all of humanity. Whether in times of celebration or in times of mourning, in settings both formal and informal, the leaders and members of this community make a point to broaden the conversation. They design for inclusivity. They challenge us to connect with, learn from, and support people of all races, ethnicities, perspectives, and faiths. Best of all, they walk the walk, as was evident by the diversity of people that came together tonight to mourn the death of those whose lives were tragically lost this weekend. Thank you to all of those who work tirelessly to ensure that we thrive as a community, and as a country, rooted in love, not hate. You make me proud to be a Jew.”

Our business, Daneli Partners, is focused on the development of leaders. We focus on finding “what matters” and developing the plan that allows a leader to capture the secret sauce that will make their organization successful. The next step is to effectively inspire those that choose to follow throughout the organization.

For today, however, I want us to focus on true grassroots leadership.

People like the young lady who became a Bat Mitzvah this weekend. People like my daughter who inspires me. And the countless people in our lives who care and are vocal about their belief in the future.

A small sample of those people who embody the idea of grassroots leadership include:

  • priests, pastors, and imams who help services to memorialize the victims;
  • the local sheriff who wrote a letter to the Syracuse Jewish Community expressing his sorrow, but also his commitment to make our community a safe place for ALL people, of any color, race, or religion;
  • friends who sent words of love, support, and sorrow to me and others;
  • Jews and non-Jews who went to synagogues this weekend in a show of support, strength, possibility, and resilience;
  • those who have committed to being more observant because of the few spreading fear around the world;
  • members of Muslim and Christian communities who have supported the Pittsburgh community through words and resources;
  • The William and Mildred Levine Foundation of Rochester, NY, who decided to make a million dollar donation after a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in August 2017. This money will go towards helping youth of different backgrounds to embrace their differences rather than fear each other;
  • and countless others.

Leadership. I have learned more about leadership in the past week than decades of managing others through career positions.

Leadership is demonstrated when individuals choose to be courageous, caring, and take ACTION.

That action affects others, compounding and amplifying through time.

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