Typically, when I write this column, I do not provide a title for it. While I guess it takes an overabundance of self-confidence to assume anyone wants to read my thoughts, somehow it seems arrogant to me to provide a title. While logically it makes no sense, I guess I just want the editors to present it how they see fit.

Titles are a complicated matter. At their best, they capture our attention and provide a very brief synopsis of what is to follow. At their worst, they can put restrictions and limitations on a person’s thoughts.

A friend of mine has been in public service for more than 20 years. During that time, he has served in various elected offices, moving up the political food chain. Unfortunately, this past November, he was defeated in his campaign for re-election. As would be expected of all candidates who fall short, he has had a difficult time with that. My friend truly had the good of his community at heart and told me that he does not know how to continue working for it now that he lacks a title in front of his name.

It is an easy trap to fall into. We elect leaders and expect them to move our communities forward. We put that burden at the feet of our elected officials at all levels of government. And well, we should. Those people sought the offices they hold, and we should expect more of them than the average citizen.  However, we should never expect them to shoulder the entire load by themselves.

Take a deep look into any community and you will quickly learn who the true leaders are. Yes, it may be a mayor or judge, as is often expected. Next on the rung are those who are not elected, but still have titles; people such as the president of the chamber of commerce, school superintendents and library board members. But if you keep looking, you will find that there are many leaders who do not have a title. They are the people who organize local food drives, who volunteer at the hospital, who coordinate community mission efforts for their church, among countless other roles. These people are found in every community, no matter the size.

I tried to explain this to my friend. His sudden lack of a title does not mean that there must be a lack of involvement. He has much to offer his community, through his experience, intellect and dedication. I know he will find a role to fill and that his town will be better for it.

His situation is what leads me to make this challenge to myself, and all of us. Why should a lack of title prevent us from being leaders? We all know that our communities could be better. There are thousands of ways we could improve. So why aren’t we? 

Are you tired of garbage on the side of the road? Take the initiative to organize a clean-up. Want better playground equipment at the park? Lead a fundraising effort. Worried about the availability of fresh food for the impoverished? Start a community garden. These and countless others are ways to make our communities better, yet none of them require a title to get started.

Our local governments, community organizations, and churches all provide great services. But we cannot rely on them to do everything. We far too often forget that these institutions are only made up of people. And while they are typically good people wanting to do their part, they cannot do it alone. There is power in numbers. Just think of all that could be accomplished if we all found ways to make improvements and cared nothing about titles or credit. As leadership expert John C. Maxwell succinctly put it, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”

As this new year begins, let us all take just a bit of time to use our lives to positively influence another.

 

Tommy Druen is a resident of Scott County.  He can be reached at tommydruen@gmail.com.

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