There are thousands of new leadership books making their way onto bookstore shelves every year. Whether they are praising or critiquing the leadership of politicians, offering tips for business leaders, or taking a historical look at famous leaders of the past, ours is a culture longing for better leadership. Books are often a snapshot of the ever evolving ways that we look for leaders to step up to make something better for all of us.
We place a lot of hope in our leaders; in men and women who are courageous, selfless, skilled, caring, and wise. We believe that somewhere leaders will emerge to solve the greatest challenges of our lives. Whether we are looking for better leaders, or hoping to be a better leader ourselves, leadership is necessary in nearly every area of our lives.
While charisma and enthusiasm are often top of the list for us, there is something more that makes a leader: character and trust. Anyone can buy nice clothes, put on a smile, and repeat their lines. However it’s character that changes everything for leaders. Character is formed as the integrity of our values and motivations influence our behaviours. You cannot buy character, it is only ever nurtured. It may be studied, learned, and practiced, but it finds root in us as we learn to lead with care among real people. Character is formed in community.
Neighbourhoods, then, are perhaps the very best place for leaders to emerge, to learn, to fail, to grow, and to develop the kind of character they need to thrive. It may not be in the boardroom, sports field, or classroom that leaders are first made. It may be in the simple and basic test bed of our homes, streets, and playgrounds that leaders first put their ability to lead to work. Do you see a couple girls walking to school every day past your house? Perhaps some kids are playing hockey on your street. Maybe your other neighbour is figuring out a big problem with their car, and some others are hosting a BBQ. These might seem like ordinary moments, but they are the places where character is made and trust is formed.
When I was boy I lived beside a famous Canadian artist. I did not know it at the time but he was shaping character in me. He would see me, talk to me, give me gifts, and ask me questions. We shared tragedies with his family and have dozens of very funny stories that still come up. Yet I do not underestimate the power that this relationship had on me to help teach me grace, kindness, creativity, and ultimately, character.
Every famous and infamous leader grew up somewhere. They had neighbours that called out the best, or worst, in them. Neighbourhoods are places where trust and life are celebrated and demonstrated. If you hope for a future of amazing leaders, start next door. Look for the young people who walk by and play where you life. Consider the power of your words and actions to shape in them a future where character matters. Each of us will benefit, or suffer, under the leaders we help to create. What kind of leaders are you encouraging in your community today?