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

Citizen Leaders: The Founding Members and Staff of Plastics Pollution Coalition

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global collaboration and effort of individuals, businesses and organizations inspired by and working together towards a vision of a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on people, animals and the environment.

The Coalition was developed and is currently championed by this handful of founders and staff whose dedicated actions on behalf of the common good exemplify Citizen Leadership:

  • Daniella Dimitrova Russo, Executive Director
  • Dianna Cohen, Art Initiatives and Creative Director
  • Julia Cohen, Coalition Manager
  • Lisa Kaas Boyle, Esq., Legislative Policy Director
  • Michaelanne Petrella, Publicist
  • Manuel Mansylla, Regional Organizer, East Coast US
  • Mark LeRoy, Web site

Through their daily efforts, these Citizen Leaders seek to put plastic pollution at the forefront of global social, environmental and political discourse with the aim of:

  • Elevating the discourse about plastic pollution to the forefront of the public attention;
  • Delivering access to information about all aspects of plastic pollution and their interconnections;
  • Connecting all involved parties—local communities, environmental organizations, public health organizations, environmental justice organizations, individuals and businesses—to each other in their work to end plastic pollution.

Here is what success will look like:

  • Individuals, organizations and businesses end their dependence on disposable plastic, and reduce their plastic footprint;
  • Plastic product manufacturers own the end of life of their products; invest in truly biodegradable products; and self-regulate the output of non-biodegradable matter;
  • International leaders form global alliances against plastic pollution
  • Economic incentives are created that move businesses to invest in plastic alternatives;
  • Legislation is passed that curbs irresponsible proliferation of disposable plastic


Peter’s Perspective: Citizen Leadership is the Prerequisite to Engaging Leadership

Q.  What exactly is a citizen leader? 

A.  A person who brings their character and courage to making a contribution on behalf of the community and the common good. 

Look closely at the people around you who are in positions of leadership or who aspire to positions of leadership.

Character: What are their guiding principles? Are their values ones that inspire you to want to follow their lead? Do those individuals regularly speak and act in ways that reflect the qualities they profess (or is it lip service)? Which individuals do have the qualities of character that would engage your enthusiasm?

Courage: Which individuals do have the courage of character to live by their values? 

Contribution to one’s community and the common good: Do the man and women who aspire to leadership positions participate in or champion efforts to better their world and create great places for us all to live, work and play? or conversely, Are their efforts regularly or largely self-serving?

Now, with the responses to these questions in hand, which of the individuals would you want to follow?

If you hope to be an engaging leader — that is, if you hope to have anyone want to follow your lead – then you need to be a person that others would want to follow.

And by extension, if companies or communities or churches or schools or civic and social organizations hope to grow their cadre of leaders – they need to insist that their men and women be people whom others would want to follow.

It starts with citizen leadership.

Words to Inspire: Christopher Evans

In college, during the summer months, I was employed as a forestry firefighter. On wildfires, working with hand tools like shovels, heavy rakes and axe-like hoes, we formed up in lines to cut firebreaks before the advancing fires. We were always told by out growling boss to “take a swipe, kid,” at the vegetation with your tools and leave the rest for the person behind you, When you looked back down the mountain at the end of our line of workers, you’d see a clear, clean line of firebreak. We learned that everyone doing a harmonious small act creates big effect. Many of us never lost the feeling that came with that understanding.

–Christopher J. Evans, Esq., Former Executive Director, Surfrider Foundation, Making Waves, August 2004

Citizen Leaders: The Six Founding Members of FoodCorps

FoodCorps is a nationwide network of volunteers combating our country’s childhood obesity epidemic by organizing and recruiting volunteers to develop and coordinate:

  • School nutrition programs that teach kids what healthy food is
  • School gardens that engage kids in learning about the food they eat and how to grow healthy produce
  • Farm to School programs that put locally grown foods in school lunches

The FoodCorps mission and organization emerged from hundreds of hours of conversations with the input of thousands of individuals in the many communities it now serves.

For their effort both in identifying and inviting the many voices that contributed to its formation, and in orchestrating the activities that led to the creation and launch of FoodCorps this year, I applaud the network’s six founding members who each brought their passion and their unique experience to the project. 

The renown American Anthropologist Margaret Meade observed, as a result of her prolonged and profound study of human beings and societies across the globe:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Let me introduce to all of you these dedicated citizens leaders by way of their short bios that appear on the FoodCorps website.

Crissie McMullan pioneered a model for our work when she founded Montana FoodCorps in 2006. An initiative of the Grow Montana Coalition and the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the state-level VISTA program continues to thrive under her leadership today.

Cecily Upton worked to give young people a voice in the food and agriculture conversation as Director of Youth Programs at Slow Food USA. She facilitated school garden projects and initiated the Slow Food on Campus program before joining the staff of FoodCorps.

Debra Eschmeyer brought her background in farming and passion for school food to the National Farm to School Network and the Food and Community Fellowship program. A go-to expert among policymakers and the press, Debra now continues her work at FoodCorps.

Ian Cheney helped start the Yale Sustainable Food Project and co-created the Peabody-winning documentary King Corn and the mobile garden project Truck Farm. He contributed his unique skills to the team through his Brooklyn-based media company, Wicked Delicate.

 Jerusha Klemperer created high-impact communication and action campaigns in her post as Associate Director of National Programs at Slow Food USA. Her strategy and social media work fueled their initiatives Time for Lunch, Dig In and Farmarazzi.

Curt Ellis co-created the documentaries King Corn and Big River and served as a Food and Community Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. In April 2009, he convened the group’s first meeting to discuss a national AmeriCorps initiative related to “Good Food.”

Citizen Leaders: All-Americans Hudson Taylor and Colin Joyner

Citizen leadership is:

Character and courage: men, women, young adults and teenagers acting and speaking with the courage of their character day in and day out, in private and public – at home, in school, at work, in their club, in church and temple, on a team, in a troop, in the support group, in the neighborhood.

Courage of character begins with their getting clear on who they are and how they want to be in the world, so they are or become the person they’d want to follow, and by extension the person others would want to follow.

Contribution to the community: men, women, young adults and teenagers applying the qualities of their character as they participate in or champion efforts to better their world and create great places for us all to live, work and play.

Hudson Taylor, an All-American wrestler and coach at Columbia University, has committed himself to eliminating homophobia from all levels of sports. His efforts have gained national and international recognition.

This is only about how we treat one another, how we speak to one another. It’s not about politics or religion or anything else. I just want to create a safe space for people.

Taylor created ATHLETE ALLY™, an online resource to encourage athletes, coaches, parents, fans and other members of the sports community to respect all individuals involved in sports, regardless of perceived or actual sexual-orientation or gender identity or expression. When you arrive at the website for the first time you’re presented with a pledge — ” I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression” — and from there, you’re presented with other steps for action. Hudson says, “I created the Pledge so that we, as an athletic community, can take proactive steps to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. When we inspire entire teams and athletic departments to commit to a new standard of athletic integrity, we will change the environment in locker rooms and on playing fields.” 

Read the full article about Hudson Taylor in The Huffington Post, and hear him talk about his efforts in an MSNBC interview.

At Bowdoin College (the #6 ranked national liberal arts college), Colin Joyner is also attempting tearing down walls of homophobia in sports. Joyner, a three-time All-American tennis player and current men’s tennis coach, created Anything But Straight in Athletics (ABSA) with Kate Stern, Director of the school’s Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. The group’s aim is to help closeted athletes come out by dismantling homophobia in Bowdoin athletics. Joyner has expressed a great hope that more schools will build programs like his ABSA.

Read the full article about his efforts in OutSports.

Citizen Leader: Kyle Thiermann, 19-Year-Old Pro Surfer

Two years ago, Kyle Thiermann, a 19 year old pro surfer living in Santa Cruz, CA began efforts to fight the construction of a coal burning plant half a hemisphere away. Kyle believed he could make a difference, and he took it upon himself to develop a strategy to make that difference. He insisted,
“People think things are impossible because they just don’t believe. I think the most important thing is to believe it is possible.”

Two years ago, Kyle Thiermann, a 19 year old pro surfer living in Santa Cruz, CA began efforts to fight the construction of a coal burning plant half a hemisphere away. He learned that the plant, to be built on the central coast of Chile, would contribute contaminates into the air and infiltrate the fresh and oceans waters of the surrounding fishing community with toxins that threatened the livelihoods of thousands – thousands with no political power to stop the project. Kyle believed he could make a difference, and he took it upon himself to develop a strategy to make that difference. He insisted,

People think things are impossible because they just don’t believe. I think the most important thing is to believe it is possible.

As Good Times Santa Cruz reported, instead of trying to tell the coal company thousands of miles away not to build the coal plant, Kyle spearheaded an effort in Santa Cruz to have local residents withdraw their money from a huge national bank funding the project and instead deposit their money in community banks and as a result allow that money to be available to fund local projects. He had done his homework. Kyle knew that if you move $100 (to a local bank), you’re giving them about $1000 dollars’ worth of lending power now to fund community projects. We can really make our local economies a lot more resilient by using this strategy.

He got the word out through a video he create and posted on YouTube: claimyourchange

As for the results, Kyle reported in an interview appearing in the drift surfing blog a few months after the release of his video: just from the video coming out, I’ve documented $400,000 dollars coming out of centralized banks like Bank of America and into community banks – which is $4,000,000 worth of lending power for the bank. There’s a surf company called Livity Outernational who have committed to moving millions out of out of B of A into San Francisco’s New Resource Bank as a result of it as well. They’re one of my sponsors and they’re really conscious. All the rest of my sponsors like Patagonia and Sector 9, they’re all supportive of the project.

And that was just a start. Now, two years later, he can document $430 million that has been withdrawn from Bank of America and deposited in local community banks around the country. Watch Kyle talk about this initiative and its success.

Kyle has since turned his efforts to a campaign (supported by a 4-minute video) to educate others and enlist their support in eliminating the use of single-use plastic bottles and bags. Again, a global problem, but one that this young man believes it is possible for him to do something about.

Kyle Thiermann is a young adult who acts and speaks with courage and authenticity. He seems to be clear about what matters to him and how he wants to be and act in the world. He applies the qualities of his character to participate in and champion efforts to better his world and create great places for us all to live, work and play.

Kyle is the quintessential model of a Citizen Leader.

Now to you.

What cause do you believe in strongly?

Why do you care about this cause?

What can you do to demonstrate to yourself and to others that you believe you can make a positive contribution to the cause?

Begin it now!