February 2019’s Leadership Principle: Taking Care of Yourself

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

How many times have you heard this phrase?  “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down into the cabin.  Secure your own mask before helping others”.  As a parent, the instruction is jarring because your first (and second and third) instinct is to take care of your children.  As a leader, the instruction makes sense.  How many people could you help if you secured your mask last?  How many more people can you help if you have a steady supply of oxygen?

As leaders, we are surrounded by needs: staff, volunteers, constituents, schedules, meetings, travel.  We also have families with their own set of needs: aging parents in declining health, kids with class projects, spouses who require attention, friendships that demand support.  All the things I just listed didn’t even get to what we need ourselves.

Leaders are not immune to problems, burn out, or stress.  We’re not immune to getting sick.  And sometimes we’re horrible about striking enough of a balance that we can take proper care of ourselves.

We’re also not immune to the effects of time.  The aging parents will pass on.  The children will grow up.  One tomorrow after another and we realize that we were so busy that we missed the important things.  We didn’t put our masks on first.

2020 is still a fresh, new year.  Let’s take some time this month to evaluate our lives and inventory our own needs.  Find ways to diet, exercise, get a check up, and learn to de-stress.  Ensure your schedule makes enough time for the people who love you.  Carve out regular hours to have fun or even just do nothing at all.  You can only bring your best energy and support if you listen to that flight attendant and take care of yourself first.

 

 

January 2019’s Leadership Principle: Listening

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

This month, I’m officially a parent to two teenagers.  God help me.  I remember the first moment I found out I would be a parent: this strange feeling of simultaneous joy and overwhelming fear.  I threw myself in to reading all the magazines, all the books, and even talking to therapists to learn how to not emotionally break my children.  I always said that I wanted to avoid seeing them on Oprah one day, talking about how their mother ruined their lives.

In all the years of research and practice, I found that the greatest thing I could do to keep our relationships healthy was to listen.  Many of you know of “active listening” where you listen to someone speak and you validate how they feel; you ask open-ended questions to allow them to open up to you more.  I say things like “It sounds like it’s really frustrating to you when you don’t get to stay up late all weekend.  What do you think is a reasonable bedtime for Friday nights?” when I really want to say “If you stay up until 3 am, you are seriously grounded”.  Just listening and not silencing goes a long way without the trappings of resentfulness and anger.

I bring this up because years of practice in active listening has taught me so much in how I respond to people.  We all want to be heard.  The toddler who’s just learned to say “no”; the senior citizen who knows they’ve seen more life than I have; the resident who struggles to pay their property tax; the club member who wants to make a contribution; even the protester who feels like we’re leading them down the wrong path.  They all want to be heard.  They all want validation.

In my own short years as an elected official, active listening has raised my awareness of issues that hadn’t come before the Council dais.  It’s inspired safety changes for roads, lighting adjustments in neighborhoods, and adjustments to the time construction is allowed.  I didn’t just read the angry emails or say perfunctory hellos at community get-togethers.  I listened to the smallest of complaints, validated them, and asked about the desired outcomes.  I have no doubt that we’re a better city for it.

As we go into the spring election season and we encounter friends, family, or even strangers who have something to say, I’d encourage you to find a way to listen, validate, and ask questions.  There could be winning issues you never realized and best of all, there may be people who become your support system, leading you in becoming a more effective leader.

 

 

November 2019’s Leadership Principle: Thankfulness

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

For November’s leadership principle, I really wanted to tie in Thanksgiving.  There were a lot of themes I could work with: coming together with those who are different, giving to others…but I kept coming back to a quote that has always moved me from a book called Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall.  As Ron’s wife is dying of cancer, she stays positive and says “Today is a good day, I woke up”.  It becomes somewhat of a theme after that, “Why are you so happy?” “because I woke up”.

The wife in that book, even in the worst of times, in pain and in her final days…she was able to be thankful, even if it was for something as simple as waking up.

Sometimes in leadership, we lose sight of the important things.  It’s easy to forget that the actions we take and the words we say will have an effect on the lives of others.  It’s common to look at activities as just a task that needs to be completed.  But perhaps thinking about where we’ve been in our lives or what we’re grateful for can help to ground us as we make decisions that affect others.

Being thankful extends beyond leadership.  Those of us that were able to attend the November membership meeting, did so in part because we had the luxury of being able to take the night off from whatever else was going on in our lives.  We were in places with our families, work, and finances that we were able to enjoy the luxury.  We are truly blessed.

As we go into the holiday season, I hope all of us will realize each day how blessed we are and feel thankful.  Don’t let the stress of the season get to you.  Steady yourself and enjoy every thankful day you get to wake up.

October 2019’s Leadership Principle: Showing Up

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

Our own Ann Richardson’s brother has a story he tells about talking to former Wisconsin Governor Mike Sullivan.  He one asked Sullivan what the key was to staying in office and keeping constituents happy.  The answer?  “Show up”.

It sounds simple.  But it can be taken so many different ways.  Sure, a leader needs to show up when policy is being made.  They also need to show up for regular meetings.  But how does that score with voters?  How does that endear anyone to their side?

Truth is, all of us as leaders need to show up in our communities.  We need to be present at the cookouts, the festivals, the book clubs.  We need to engage our neighbors, elected officials, co-workers.  Perhaps most importantly, we need to show up and vote.

We all saw what happened in the election last November.  It was the wake up call to remind us not to be complacent.  Nobody else is going to shop up at the polls to do our work for us.

This November, I’m hoping all of us will remember to show up, both at the polls and in our communities.

As they say, “history is made by those that show up”.

September 2019’s Leadership Principle: Perseverance

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

I have recently been reading a lot of books about the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln.  I’ve read about how he kept persevering when he wasn’t permitted a formal education.  I’ve read about how he continued persevering when his bid for President was deemed a long-shot.  And of course I’ve read about how he had no other way but to persevere throughout the dark days of the Civil War.

We all know those stories.

But I think the most moving of all were the stories shared in a book called Lincoln’s Melancholy.  Did you know that Lincoln struggled all his life with depression?  I didn’t.  He would never carry a pocket knife like most men of his time did, because he was afraid he’d take his own life with it.  His friends put him on suicide watch once in his twenties and took away his razor.  Suicide watch wasn’t really a thing in the 1800s.  It would have been extraordinary for someone to be on a watch like that.  That says a lot about the depths his depression took him to… but he persevered.

All those things I spoke of before: the long-shot bid for President, the dark days of the Civil War, not to mention the very public mourning of the deaths of his sons…he had to conquer all of it, all the while grappling with his own depression.

We tend to judge leaders by the great things they do, the ways they persevered publicly.  But perhaps we should recall that our leaders are human too, and that the biggest obstacles they must overcome are the personal ones that perhaps nobody ever sees.

August 2019’s Leadership Principle: Forbearance

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

Forbearance isn’t a word you hear too often.  The dictionary defines it at “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance”.  Its synonyms include “abstinence” and “tolerance”.  In other words, “know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em”.

My mother used to always tell me not to talk about politics with people, because people get so passionate that it can ruin friendships.  I think we’ve all felt so strongly on something that we want to scream it at anybody we can find and make them listen.  But think of national figures who do that.  How successful are they in swaying others to their side?

Not very.

It’s about as effective as yelling at someone to “calm down”.

To be able to affect change, whether in a society, in a group, or with an individual, you need to know when to hold back your every thought and instead, try to understand where the other person is coming from.  We can never convince someone that our way is the true path if all we do is attack, but by practicing forbearance, we demonstrate our reasonableness and our respect for the person we’re speaking to, and that person is more likely to respect our opinions so we can find some common ground.

Over the next month, take a look at how you demonstrate your opinions, whether face to face or on social media.  Are you practicing forbearance and being persuasive, or are you yelling “calm down” in an echo chamber of your own making?

July 2019’s Leadership Principle: Authenticity

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

When you were a kid and people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what was your answer?

For me, it was Madonna.  I wanted to be Madonna.  Sometimes it would change: a veterinarian, a lawyer, a Broadway  performer.  No matter what I imagined myself to be though, it always had that dream-like essence: a feeling it would never quite be within reach.  If somebody had said I was going to move halfway across the country and become a small-town city council member, it would have felt just as unreachable as being Madonna.

The thing is, we are not born as politicians.  And someday, when we leave this earth, we will not leave it as politicians.  Being a politician is just a season in our lives: the same as being a high school student; a newlywed; and if we’re lucky enough, a senior citizen.  One season may be how some people remember us, but it is not what defines us.

What truly defines us is what we are, and that’s where this month’s principle comes in: authenticity.

The definition of authenticity

Who are you and what string of authenticity runs through your life?  What is it that people can always count on you for?  Are you honest?  Do you admit when you’re wrong?  Do you say what you’ll do and do what you’ll say?

For me, the strings of authenticity that run through my life include being honest about what I believe, even if it makes me unpopular; letting people close to me know where we stand, even if that threatens to hurt our friendship; being able to admit when I’ve erred, but always being able to know that  I erred with good intentions; and always being available to friends, and protecting them fiercely.

Someday, this season of your life will come to a close.  At the end of your days, what will be in your eulogy?  It won’t be “they were great at politics”.  If we’re lucky, it will be “I could always count on them”.

May 2019’s Leadership Principle: Serving Others

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

This month, we celebrate Armed Forces Day, supporting the people who have served us and our country.  We honor those who willingly give of themselves to keep us safe.

In elected office, we’re referred to as “public servants”.  That’s the intent: we are there to serve.  We serve our community and all those in it.  We serve the majority, the minority, and those too young to know which way they fall.

There are so many ways to serve others, from raising up the people around us to lending a helping hand to someone in need, to just being a shoulder to cry on or someone who will listen.

As you go forward this month, look for all the opportunities presented to you where you can serve, and take advantage of those times.

The definition of authenticity

April 2019’s Leadership Principle: Bravery

 

By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications

 

 

I’ve never been a fan of the term “fearless leader”.  It implies that there’s something inherently wrong with feeling fear.  Some of America’s greatest moments and the actions performed by people we collectively deem heroes, involved instances where certainly, people possessed fear.

I think “brave leader” is a more appropriate choice.  Bravery is not the absence of fear.  Bravery is facing your fear full-on, standing up against it, and taking an action.

Sometimes bravery is demonstrated on a battlefield, or running in to a fire, or toward danger.  Sometimes bravery is merely stepping out of your comfort zone, knocking on a door, speaking to a stranger.

In politics, bravery is frequently demonstrated by taking a stand for what you believe in.  It takes the form of showing up to a meeting after the media has maligned your group, or it can be openly defying some in your inner circle and challenging their beliefs.

If not for the brave actions of those in politics, the United States would never evolve.  It’s taken political bravery to create The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and each of our Constitutional amendments.  Every one of those began with someone who decided to take a risk, voice their opinion, and in time, persuade others to go along.