Corporate Citizen Leadership

The broader implication of Citizen Leadership for a corporation is captured in this question: As we pursue our goals, are we operating in a way that serves the common good? I believe we earn the right to call ourselves citizens because we are willing to actively participate in, serve in and lead efforts that better a community. I propose that a corporation has the same opportunity.

Now whether it acts on that opportunity is another story — and speaks volumes about the disposition of its leaders. And among the dispositions that thwart those efforts in our business communities: maximize wealth. I’m very familiar with it. It’s the mantra I learned in business school. It’s the message I’ve gotten from any number of leaders and consulting clients whose primary focus has been on building market value.

Yes we have fiduciary and legal responsibilities to our investors and shareholders. But in a citizen leader world, we also have responsibilities that extend well beyond our investors and shareholders to our other fellow citizens— not the least of whom are our employees, our clients and the people who live in our communities. In a citizen leader world, our pursuit of wealth (or power, or influence or reputation) does not give us license to degrade or damage the well-being of our constituents or our communities. Taking it one step deeper, in a citizen leader world, we are asked to act in ways that benefit our communities.

In 1886 [Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad] the Supreme Court allowed that a corporation is entitled to some of the same protections under our Constitution as is a natural person. That decision has been reexamined and reaffirmed any number of times since. Those decisions taken together have morphed into a short and succinct claim by our corporations to equal treatment under the law. Fair enough. It’s 2012. Now, 126 years later, if our corporations and institutions are intent on being included equally among We the People, then as a matter of course rather than as an exception, isn’t it also fair to at least ask that they act like citizens? Isn’t it also fair to expect that they act like citizens? And isn’t it also fair to expect that they, along with the rest of us, along with the rest of We the People, play an active role in promoting the common good (the general welfare)[1] .

In a citizen leader culture, we as a corporation recognize that we are all in this together. We look to ensure that our actions contribute rather than damage or degrade. We look for ways to give back rather than just maximize our take.

Heed the words of former Secretary of State and Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell who reminds us:

My responsibility, our responsibility as lucky Americans, is to try to give back to this country as much as it has given us, as we continue our American journey together.


[1] The full preamble to the Constitution of the United States reads: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


Key Themes of Citizen Leadership

Character counts

We are all co-creators of the world we live in. Through our actions and words and choices, we help shape our immediate communities, be that home, school, work, club, church, etc. As such, it is incumbent upon each one of us to explore and respond to the questions: Who and I? and How do I want to be in the world?  and in so doing, get very clear on a set of guiding principles that are your signature in the world — that allows you to say with conviction: I am a person I’d want to follow.

We are the final arbiter of our actions

Uncompromising and unapologetic adherence to our signature — to our guiding principles — is the stuff of personal integrity and public credibility — and in the longer term to our abilities to engage the confidence of others. More importantly, our adherence to principle is the stuff of a meaningful life.

Be a Citizen Leader

A citizen leader is a person who applies their character and the courage of their convictions to participate, serve, act and lead efforts that contribute to their communities and the common good.

Citizen is a deeply honorable title. Yes, it is most commonly a designation bestowed by an accident of birth or location. But it can be so much more. In a truer form, citizen is a distinction that we earn by extending ourselves to others and contributing to the world around us. Citizens are involved and engaged. They are participants. They are doers. They are not spectators. In essence, we earn the right to call ourselves citizens because we are willing to actively participate in efforts that better a community and improve life for all. In so doing, it is we who, by the virtue and the value of our contribution, transform a particular community.

Citizen Leadership is the school for engaging leadership.

I am of the mind that the person who has experience as an active citizen will possess the unique capacity to engage others as a leader.

By the same token, I feel wary of those who wear the mantle of leader, but who, on closer inspection, show little appreciable depth as citizens. I look to see whether an individual has in their history any evidence of service and contribution to their communities, or whether instead theirs is a record of activity undertaken largely for the purposes of self-advancement or enrichment. If the evidence supports the latter, I ask myself whether their conduct as a leader would be any different.

In my experience, self-serving behavior cloaked as leadership is a sham. It is the stuff of those who have traded integrity for expedience, for egocentric satisfaction, for selfishness. But it is not the stuff of engaging leadership, and it is certainly not the stuff of citizenship.

Peter’s Perspective: Lovers are Better Leaders


A fundemental tenet of my book, The Citizen Leader, is that citizenship challenges us to participate in efforts to better our communities and improve life for all — that we earn the right to call ourselves active citizens when we contribute to the communites where we live, work, play and pray.

Let me follow and add that our willingness to act, and by extension our willingness to contribute to the world around us at all, is linked directly to our feeling and beliefs about our communities. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher and advocate of self-reliance and personal initiative, reminds us: nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. So, as we look at our potential and capacity to be active citizens in our communities, let us focus on our enthusiasm and the source of our enthusiasm — the source that prompts us and fuels us to take action and make meaningful contributions. That source is love — love for the people of our community, and love for our place and purpose in it.

Our topic is love.

When leadership experts and bestselling authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began their research for their highly acclaimed and widely read book, The Leadership Challenge, they came across then U.S. Major General John Stanford. They write that this was a man who was a highly decorated veteran of multiple military tours in Korea and Vietnam, and who headed up the Military Traffic Management Command for the U.S. Army during the first Gulf War in 1991. When he retired form the military, he went on to become the superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools where he sparked a very positive revolution in public education. As Kouzes and Posner write:

All that we learned of John’s public service was impressive, but it was his answer to one of our interview questions that most influenced our own understanding of leadership. We asked John how he’d go about developing leaders, whether in colleges and universities, in the military, in government, in the nonprofit sector, or in private business. He replied,

“When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside other people, the have greater desire to get things done that other people. A person who is not in love doesn’t really feel the kind of excitement that help them get ahead and to lead others and to achieve. I don’t know any other fire, and other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is.”

Kouzes and Posner elegantly conclude:

Of all the things that sustain a leader over time, love is the most lasting. It’s hard to imagine leaders getting up day after day, putting in the long hours and hard work it takes to get extraordinary things done, without having their hearts in it. The best-kept secret of success leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce and with those who honor the organization by using is products and services.


Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.

Our topic is love.


In his recently released book, Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything, John Izzo recalls an interview with a bank CEO whose responses echoed the same sentiment. Izzo talks about meeting Jimmy Blanchard who was, at the time of the interview, CEO of Synovus which had just been named the best of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. Izzo writes:

When I asked him the bank’s secret and why it might have been named the best company to work for in America, he offered a simple reason:

It is the power of love. We are successful because we love each other and we love our customers…it’s that simple.


Conclusion: Lovers are the better leaders.

Peter’s Perspective: Citizenship in a Community

Citizen is a deeply honorable title. Yes, it is most commonly a designation bestowed by an accident of birth or location. But it can be so much more. In a truer form, citizenship is a merit that we earn by extending ourselves to others and contributing to the world around us. Citizens are involved and engaged. They are participants. They are doers. They are not spectators. In essence, we earn the right to call ourselves citizens because we are willing to actively participate in efforts that better a community and improve life for all. In so doing, it is we who, by the virtue and the value of our contribution, transform ourselves from just one among a crowd into an active member of a particular community.

And herein lies the first challenge. What is community? What do we really mean by community? These are questions that I have struggled with, and still do. So, I’ll start by sharing some thoughts with you that have helped me to get clearer on the notion of community.

Community. It’s one of those words we use as an easy and convenient way to label or group people. Sometimes we say community to identify the inhabitants of a geographic area (say, the community of Santa Cruz, California, where I live) or political entities (the community of nations). At other times we say community to identify individuals by a host of widely different criteria and affiliations: professional (business, high-tech, medical, military), religious (Christian, Jewish, Muslim), racial and ethnic (black, white, Hispanic, Asian), sporting interests (golf, NASCAR) … and the list goes on. Just as often, we use community in referring to ourselves as a way to self-identify — to think of ourselves as a part of others rather than apart from them (as in “I am part of the gay community” or “the surf community”). At a fundamental level, community conveys a sense of belonging.

Almost every morning for the past two years, I have driven or biked to People’s Coffee, about two miles from my home in Santa Cruz, for a triple americano. Everyone behind the counter knows my name, greets me, asks me how I am doing and chats. We’ve gotten to know a little bit about one another over time. The crew: Curtis (Cordon Bleu master chef turned barista/owner — we trade tales of weekend adventures, in the kitchen or dining out), Austin (avid gardener — we regularly update one another on what is growing, ripening or flowering in our gardens), Andrea (graduate student, multilingual — she and I speak French together), Dan (aspiring musician/singer who just cut his first CD — very Native American beat — gave me a copy and asked me for my candid feedback) and Cody (café mascot, Australian sheep dog, wanders in and out flashing his watery eyes hoping for a handout).

I am part of the wave of regulars who show up at the café day after day. We recognize one another. We sometimes nod or offer a brief hello. Some of us hang out, sip, read, write or do whatever it is we do on our laptops, phones or iPads. People’s is a place of familiarity in the morning. We are the morning crowd. But it leads me to ask, is that all we are — the morning crowd? — or is our band of regulars a community? Do a group of people who share a common space, frequent the same coffee bar or live in the same dormitory or co-op or even zip code constitute “community”? What does it take to transform crowd into community?

I graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, some 30 years ago. To this day, I regularly get mailings of its alumni magazine, newsletters from the president, annual requests for donations and a yearly calendar with pictures of the campus. By virtue of my being an alum, I am and will always be connected with Bowdoin, and the college will try to stay connected with me. In fact, we band of alumni are oftentimes referred to as part of the “Bowdoin community.” I have deep affections for my college. I do my part by occasionally reading their online daily newspaper and their monthly email bulletins. But is this virtual connection enough for me to honestly say that I feel part of the Bowdoin community?

Is sharing an interest enough to constitute “community”? Interests in common often lead to a self-selected identity that we willingly, even eagerly, assume. Look to the citizens of Red Sox Nation. Is this band of passionate fans a community?

Or can sharing an activity build a community? Hundreds of surfers live in Santa Cruz, many of whom know one another and have been surfing together for years, even decades. Most share the waves. Some, though, band together and can act fiercely possessive of what they consider “their break,” a localism that can create friction with outsiders. Mind you, an outsider can just be a surfer from the other side of town. An outsider can also be someone who surfs on a different-length surfboard. So, when I hear or read about the “surf community,” I wonder what it means.

The overarching question remains the same: What makes community?

For an answer, I look first to a dictionary. Webster’s informs me that community derives from the Latin prefix con, meaning “together.” It also comes to us from the Latin munis, which means “performing services.” Ahh! I begin to see deeper, and perhaps appreciate the overlooked essence of the word: community is individuals who together serve and support one another.

Now we’re getting somewhere. More than identity (Bowdoin graduate, Red Sox fan, surfer), community means involvement: involvement with others with an aim to serve and support one another. Community is active. It is engagement. It is participation. Community is not a spectator sport.

That meaning has gusto. Community connotes a group of people in whom I can place my faith and trust to help me out when and if I’m in need, and to whom, by the same token, I’d be willing to lend a hand if one of them were in need. We’re all in this together, and our strength is in our unity. Sign me up.

Now, how about you?

Who are your communities — the various bands or crowds with whom you come together (be they real or virtual) to support and serve one another? Look all around you: at work, at home, in school, at play, in support groups, in faith-based groups, in neighborhood groups, on teams, in troops, in virtual groups and in the many ways and places that you and others come together to serve and support one another. Each of us probably belongs to several communities. Put an identity to these groups of individuals with whom you connect through your active and supportive participation, not begrudgingly but willingly, not because you have to but because you want to.

Try this:

1. One at a time, focus on the communities of which you are a member. In your mind’s eye, picture several of the individuals in that community. Picture the individuals with whom you actively engage to support or serve one another. Allow yourself to own and rightfully call yourself an active citizen of that community. Hear yourself say out loud: ” I am an active citizen of ___________________________________ community!”

2. Repeat for another commmunity or for all of the communities in which you are an active citizen.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader