Thursday, March 5, 2020

All leadership is local

Following are excerpts from a larger paper I wrote during the summer of 2016 as part of my studies in pursuit of a Ph.D. in leadership from Cardinal Stritch University. Each summer, students in Stritch's doctoral program attend what's called the Summer Institute. The SI features a variety of speakers, workshops, and individual and group assignments and activities.

From the paper, "Reflections on the Doctoral Program’s 2016 Summer Institute"

All Leadership is Local

Throughout the entire 2016 Summer Institute for doctoral students at Cardinal Stritch University, one common and consistent thread that really stood out in the mind of this author was a reaffirmation that all leadership is local. A political science major as an undergraduate student, this author is familiar with the old and popular adage, “All politics is local.” Having developed a strong interest in economics over the years, as well, in particular the area of behavioral economics, this author subscribes to the belief that all economics really is local, too. With this said, it is only naturally befitting, then, that all leadership is local.

This author contends that, all too often, we as a society are looking for answers, direction, and guidance from state, regional, and national leaders; whether they be elected and non-elected government officials, or corporate executives and managers, non-profit leaders, and association heads. But leadership really starts at home, in our own backyards – in our communities and in our workplaces. For this author, this is the main takeaway from the institute. All leadership is local. This simple message serves as a profound reaffirmation of what we as a society are truly capable of achieving in our own communities. All of this ties in very well with the personal mission statement of this author: “To help others discover their true potential with the talents and gifts granted to me” (Robertson, 2016, para. 1).

By working in meaningful, collaborative ways, rooted in genuinely thoughtful and caring relationships, with others in our own communities, we are weaving our own unique threads, leaving our mark, on the national and even international tapestry. As we work with others locally to open doors and create opportunities for them and for ourselves, we are all taking these meaningful experiences, relationships, and newfound insights and wisdom gained with us as we move on to new communities and new organizations. As this author stated in a paper entitled, “What Leadership Means to Me,” written in May 2015:
This author’s desire to create and foster a learning organization is driven by a strong passion to see others flourish and maximize their potential. By incorporating the philosophies and strategies – essentially, the culture – that create the proper conditions for a learning organization, both individual and organizational opportunity become virtually limitless. And while such outcomes only appear at first glance to be immediately beneficial to the organization implementing such a culture, as well as to the individuals within that organization, the broader implications for whole societies and economies become evident over the long term as such organizations partner with others on ventures and the individuals within these organizations leave for others, cross-pollinating with their acquired knowledge and wisdom. Therefore, learning organizations drive broader change and improvement in entire societies and economies, and because of this fact, are socially responsible merely by virtue of their ideals and commitments where fostering authentic learning is concerned. (Robertson, 2015, para. 10)
This statement from “What Leadership Means to Me” was written in the context of a learning organization, whether it is a for-profit, non-profit, or any kind of education-driven entity. However, this statement certainly remains very applicable to the current discussion that all leadership is local. When we work to open doors for one another in our hometowns, unlocking potential and creating opportunities, the effects resonate far beyond these hometowns. Those who have been positively impacted will take all of these rich experiences and insights with them to other towns and organizations in the passing years. Hopefully, they will return the favor with the new people they meet and work with along the way.

During the institute, one of the plethora of speakers that we heard from was Dr. Belle S. Wheelan. Dr. Wheelan is the current president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the accrediting body for institutions of higher learning across the southern United States. During her talk, in response to a rhetorical question she posed, “Why be a leader?”, two of her replies were, “To help others realize their dreams” and to, “Contribute to the betterment of society, locally and nationally” (Wheelan, personal communication, June 21, 2016). While this author found Dr. Wheelan’s personal story and discussion fascinating and engaging, he argues, after this moment of reaffirming clarity, that it is not necessary to state, “locally and nationally”. Local is national; national is local. With all of the high-level advances made in the areas of communications, travel, and shipping – necessary in order to transport and spread ideas, resources, goods, services, and human capital – perhaps distinguishing between local and national (and certainly even international to some degree) is no longer relevant nor even tenable, at least in the realms of politics, economics, and leadership. Then again, perhaps we are arguing over mere semantics here. But thanks to goods and services often taken for granted every day like the Internet, automobiles, the freeway system, cellular phones, airlines, shipping services, and more, there are virtually no longer any barriers to the sharing and spreading of ideas, talent, goods, any kind of assistance and goodwill to others, and a lot more.

Throughout the institute, we heard from a variety of presenters that served to reinforce this author’s assertion that all leadership is local. Take for example, Dr. Dick Kamps, who spoke before the institute’s attendees on June 18. Dr. Kamps, of Muskegon, Michigan, is a general surgeon by profession, practicing since 1985. He launched Step Up, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving young adults who have aged out of the foster care system through mentoring, healthy relationships, and even a place to stay while they secure employment and get started in life (Kamps, personal communication, June 18, 2016).

Also addressing the institute, among a host of others, were Russell Hicks, a Philadelphia-based social entrepreneur using his talents and gifts to open doors for youth in his community, such as through organizing college fairs and encouraging young people to develop an interest in the field of Information Technology (Hicks, personal communication, June 21, 2016); Dr. Kirstin Anglea and Tim Vargo of the Urban Ecology Center, which serves as a catalyst for citizen science and for getting youth interested in exploring and discovering the natural world (Anglea and Vargo, personal communication, June 21, 2016); Alfred Parchia and Andre Douglas of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, who discussed their work with the local Stein Scholars program, endowed by the late Marty Stein of Stein Optical, and the College Signing Day ceremony they helped launch, which mimics a college athlete draft day (Parchia and Douglas, personal communication, June 22, 2016); and Griselda Aldrete, the current president and chief executive officer of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, who discussed her organization’s work with three area high schools and eight college campuses (Aldrete, personal communication, June 22, 2016).


Robertson, A.S. (2016, April 27). Moral leadership. Posted to

Robertson, A.S. (2015, September 11). What leadership means to me. Posted to

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