Peter’s Perspective: Letter to Lady Gaga offering support for her Born This Way Foundation

Dear Lady Gaga,

I am writing to you in your capacity as champion of the Born This Way Foundation to make you aware of The Citizen Leader as a potential tool to use in your foundation’s mission to empower youth and inspire bravery. The Citizen Leader: Be the Person You’d Want to Follow is a guide to help young adults and teens be authentic and courageous and to make an uncompromising and unapologetic commitment to a set of personal core principles that speak to who they are, how they aspire to be, and the kind of world they want to live in. I have written this book to help young adults create great places for us all to live, work and play. I think my book could be a very useful tool in helping to forward your foundation’s mission — to connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a braver, kinder world.

I try to impress on our young people that their future, our future, is largely in their hands. When all is said and done, I believe we are all co-creators of the world we live in. Through our actions, words and choices, we help shape our immediate communities, be that at home, school, work, club, church, etc. The Citizen Leader challenges young adults to be clear about what they stand for and prompts them to participate, serve, act and lead efforts to shape better communities for themselves and their fellow citizens.

It takes a strong and steady sense of self at one’s core and the courage to act and speak from one’s core to battle the mean-spirited and often sanctimonious bullying and homophobia that you speak against so forcefully. Yours is a voice that reaches so many of our young people. You are challenging them and us to be the authors and actors in creating a safer world. I am grateful to you for creating the Born This Way Foundation and for championing its efforts to engage our youth to build a world where humanity is embraced, individuals are empowered and intolerance is eliminated.

In my wilder dreams, I’d like to believe that the introspection like the one I offer in The Citizen Leader — the exploration of self, the discernment and dedication to core principles and the call to better one’s communities and the world — could be embraced as an essential element in the curriculum for our young adults during their formative years in high-school, vocational school and college.

I hope that my book can be a useful tool to help with your foundation’s mission.

Thank you and with my every good wish,

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: The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Consider this bit of wisdom: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing! 

Now let’s put it to use: If the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, what’s the main thing?

If the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, what are the main principles that will guide your actions?

Answer that riddle, and you will know how to act, in good winds and bad, when the choice is easy and, more important, when the choice is hard.

When you know who you are and who you commit to be, your choice of actions flows more easily and spontaneously, without a need for prolonged deliberation or strategizing or weighing the pros and cons.

Knowing who you are and who you commit to be is a discipline. It will equip you with a set of rules that allow you to engage in any game that your personal and professional lives offer up.

Knowing who you are and who you commit to be is a discipline that is tremendously liberating. The discipline imposed by the rules can free you of the chronic need to weigh, wonder, consider or calculate how to act or how to play, a need that accompanies an absence of rules.

Whatever actions you live by and play by, they become your signature. Now, we all routinely offer our handwritten signature in ways small to large, routine to rare, from signing a credit card slip for coffee to signing a tax return. Yet, much more often, we offer our signature through our actions, ranging from regularly pausing to offer a genuine hello and thank you to the coffeehouse barista to responding honestly in situations where we fear that the truth might be to our disadvantage or detriment. Small or large, pedestrian to profound, your actions are your signature.

When I take the time to look closely enough around me, I see plenty of individuals who effortlessly demonstrate character — I say effortlessly, because they know who they are to such a degree that they act on principle as a matter of course.

I see them when someone:

  • returns too much change given at the register.
  • picks up trash left on the beach by someone else.
  • takes in a stray dog, tracks down the owner and returns her safely home.
  • buys at a locally owned store, even if prices might be slightly higher than at the chain store.

I also see individuals who act from their core when it could be so much more effortless for them to do otherwise. 

I see them in the man, woman or young person who take it upon themselves to:

  • stand up against bullying — including the bullying of gay and lesbian teenagers.
  • stand up against the disrespect and sexual abuse of women.
  • advocate on behalf of dignity, equality or fairness.

Now, back to you and to the questions: What set of principles are you prepared to embrace privately, and share publicly? What is the signature by which you will be known? These are your main things. And, after all, the main thing is to keep these main things the main thing!

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

The Defying Choice

The Defying Choice

In this fourth and final post of the series, let’s look at what happens if someone in a position of influence or power — someone higher in the chain of command — tells you to do something that runs contrary to your guiding principles (and cloaks that demand in the cloth of cultural values).

Here’s an example — an encounter that upset me at the time, and still upsets me now as I write about it. I was working with two individuals, both of them intelligent professionals in the high-tech field, who had recently been confronted with the dilemma of having to choose between personal integrity and professional loyalty. One insisted that while our examination of personal integrity and its connection to public credibility was all fine and good, it just was not the “real world.” He went on to explain that in his short tenure at his company, he had learned that it was best not to contradict the boss, but instead to simply do as he was told. The second person chimed in that she felt the same way. She followed that by sharing that her boss had told her to misrepresent test results so that a project could proceed uninterrupted, and rationalized his demand by saying they would fix the shortcomings later. She believed that she needed to acquiesce so as to show loyalty, and that not to do so would be seen as a liability to her career. She felt pressured by a seeming cultural norm for loyalty to compromise her core. At the time, she was only in her mid-20s.

Regrettably, all too often I witness this insidious insistence on loyalty (or other cultural imperatives such as conformity, shareholder value, victory, security and the like, any of which can suffocate personal principles). I regularly read and hear about its showing up in business and government in stories portraying individuals who have drifted away from their core to pursue power, profit, prestige, position, pleasure or personal gain. I observe it in the behaviors and words of individuals whose playbook for their real world parallels the philosophy that “Principle is okay, up to a certain point, but principle doesn’t do any good if you lose.”[1]

To acquiesce to a show of loyalty (or conformity, shareholder value, victory, security, and so on) at the expense of your core values causes injury to your character — an injury that can be a lasting liability to your career and your conscience.

I take heart in the words of Thomas Jefferson: “…in matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock…”

And I find courage in the wisdom of Mohandas Gandhi: “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please or, worse, to avoid trouble.”

It takes real courage to defy someone, especially if that someone else is in a position to deny you something you desire. We are right back to dilemma. Or are we? By making the choice to defy someone else’s demand that you damn your own character, you safeguard the only thing that you can truly call yours — your integrity.

It’s up to you. In the end, you are the final arbiter of your actions. 

[1] Campaign advice given by former Vice President Dick Cheney to associates when he was White House chief of staff.

   Source: Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush, by John W. Dean.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Living with Integrity in Your Community (II): The Defining Choice

The Defining Choice

This is the third post that explores the options that we might consider when we find ourselves in a situation that pits our personal guiding principle against the shared values of one of our communities. This situation can (and probably will at some point in your life) bring you to a tipping point where you can and must consciously choose to define (or perhaps redefine) both yourself and your life.

Let me illustrate. Ten years ago, I was part of a small team of consultants and facilitators conducting leadership development seminars for clients throughout the country and all over the world. This required a ton of travel — another airport, another plane, another hotel, another dinner alone. And while it was up to each of us to choose whether to take on yet another client, culturally our explicit principles of teamwork and client delight translated into an implicit understanding that we would only sparingly say no. Each time I acquiesced to that cultural value, each time I said yes even though I really wanted to say no, I was choosing to be away from home. That choice chronically bumped up against my personal value that I would make healthy choices for mind, body and spirit (which included choosing to spend time with friends and to focus on forming a primary relationship). While I cared greatly for the other members of my team, and I was devoted to doing great work for our clients, I also deeply wanted to strengthen my friendships and settle with a partner (both of which required face-time at home). I had lived with the dilemma for many years.

It was mid-September when this chronic dilemma grabbed hold of me hard and offered me yet another choice between the competing values. I had just returned to work from having taken a two-month unpaid leave of absence into which I had tried to cram what I hoped would be a sufficient amount of face-time with friends to satisfy my longings to strengthen my relationships, and maybe even create new ones. I had also hoped that my sabbatical would help me establish a healthier balance between my personal principle to make healthy choices for my body, mind and spirit and the workplace values of teamwork and client delight. Yet, in the first few days after my return, I was asked to take on client engagements that would require nine back-to-back weeks of travel.

So, while I might have taken a break, my dilemma hadn’t budged, and it met me square-on upon my return. What to do?

I could go back to saying yes, even though I really wanted to say no, or I could choose to be the person I was striving to be. (Have you heard Einstein’s observation that insanity is defined as doing the same thing the same way you’ve always done it, and expecting to get different results?) Well, I chose to do things differently this time around. I made a choice in favor of making healthy choices for my mind, body and spirit. I ultimately decided to resign. More to the point, I decided to make the saner choice: to remove myself from a culture whose values caused me too frequently to minimize my own. I have never regretted that decision, never.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Living with Integrity in Your Community (II): The Dilemma

The Dilemma

My Uncle Anthony grew up in Brooklyn, New York, among a community of immigrant parents and first-generation American kids, an environment much influenced by a culture of family.

Many individuals with whom I have worked over the years profess to pattern their behaviors and choices after an adherence to family. When I’ve asked them to explain, they have shared stories that show vastly different definitions of what family looks like in action. Among those differences:

For some it means spending time with family — that is, regularly making choices that permit them to be with members of their family.

For others it means providing for family ­— in other words, engaging in activities that provide for the maintenance and welfare of the family.

Of course, there is no correct or right or singular definition of family, just as there is no singular definition of many, if not most, principles or values. What is important, though, is that with regard to the handful of principles that you attach to, you make the effort to develop definitions that resonate with you and that inform you in your interactions with the world around you.

I cannot promise that it will be easy to settle on a clear definition. Deciphering and deciding from among many differing interpretations will pose its challenges, if not its dilemmas, just as the concept of family does. Nor can I promise you that it will be easy living by a definition once you have settled on it. Much to the contrary, you can expect to run up against community or cultural or workplace values that conflict with your own and that seem to force you to choose between competing concerns. This is the nature of dilemma: having to make a choice from among one or several alternatives, each of which presents some upside and some downside. For example, let’s say that you hold to spending time with family as a personal value. Meanwhile, suppose that teamwork is one of the principles in your work community. It is almost predictable that occasionally the two will clash, both competing for your presence and your time — both laying claim to your choices. We see and feel much confusion, even consternation, about how to balance the two in contemporary culture.

Suffice it to say that you will encounter dilemmas along the way. There is no ideal path to follow as you navigate through. Your choices will be individual and situational. My hope is that they will be well considered and consistent with who you strive to be. This will be especially important — and an even stronger imperative — when:

–      dilemma pits personal principles against community values in ways that simply do not or cannot accommodate a balancing act, or

–      dilemma pits personal principles against personal desires (or wants) in a way that, by definition, one must give way to the other.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Living with Integrity in Your Community (II): The Slam Dunk

Living with integrity in your community, that is, acting from your core — adhering to your own set of principles — is most challenging when one or more of your community’s values offends, prompts or, worse, insists that you violate your own values.

How do you handle it when one (or more) of the shared values of your community seems to be at odds with your guiding principles?

I do not ask this question lightly. Once again, “What do you do when your guiding principles seem to stand at odds with the shared values of your community?” I do not presume to believe that the answer is easy, either. Yet, the question is one that people struggle with every day.

Over the course of this next week, let me offer a few approaches from among a spectrum of possible responses. I draw these from my personal and professional life:

The Slam Dunk,

The Dilemma,

The Defining Choice

The Defying Choice.

Whichever your approach, it is up to you.


The Slam Dunk

At 97 years old, my Uncle Anthony didn’t hesitate for a moment to share the principles that had guided him through eight decades of his adult life. Picture this: his caregiver, Joy, had just gently combed his hair, and I remarked how fortunate he was to have someone so nice looking after him. He added, “Yes, and she is so very pretty too.” I jokingly replied, “Careful, Anthony — Joy is married.” Without missing a beat, he cracked, “But she has a younger sister.” I tried to be witty and cracked back, “Keep it legal, pal.” It was just our usual good-humored banter. Yet, on this occasion, without any prompting from me, Anthony paused, and with great presence continued, “I always have. That’s how I’ve lived my life.” I couldn’t resist, so I asked him to say more about what was going through his mind. What he said in the next moment has become a memory that I will treasure for a long time. With ease and with a solid sense of self, my uncle said, quite simply, “I have lived by three principles my whole life: I never tell a lie. I always pay my taxes on time. And I never get in trouble with the law.” 

Simple, clear, incisive. And each one a clear and true reflection of the man.

I never tell a lie. I never knew Uncle Anthony to say anything that he knew to be untrue. Oh sure, in our conversations, he had said things that were wrong or misinformed. We all do. But I had never known him to knowingly misrepresent.

I always pay my taxes on time. I have every confidence that he did. Yet, there was much more to this simple idea, much more that reflected a larger principle at play. Anthony knew what his obligations were to the people in his various and often overlapping communities, and he accepted and met those obligations head-on and without begrudging them. When he made a promise, he kept it. When he made a commitment, he followed through. When he assumed responsibility out of his own initiative, he persevered.

I never get in trouble with the law. And, to my knowledge, he never did — not even a speeding ticket. Yet once again, his words only touched the surface of a broader value that all who knew him witnessed regularly and routinely. Anthony had a solid, personal sense of what right action was, and what it was not. No one was going to tell him differently. Yes, there were those who disagreed with him. I certainly did, on occasion. Regardless, he relied on an internal gyroscope to stay true to his sense of right action every day. Whether in his professional life as an accountant, at home in a marriage of 52 years, in his community as a volunteer on the finance committees of his sports club and condo association or as the patriarch of an extended family of nephews and nieces (three generations’ worth!), my uncle played by a succinct set of rules. If challenged to act differently by the influences or the winds swirling around him, however tempting or menacing those winds might be, for Anthony Alduino, the answer to What do I do? was a slam dunk: Anthony did it his way.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Living with Integrity in Your Community (I)

Earlier this week, I talked about community values as the promises you and the members of your community make to one another about how we will act and interact with one another as you go about your daily lives.

Now let us move on to consider whether you are indeed living with integrity in your community as you go about your daily life and activities.

Integrity is, first and foremost, living from the core. It is behaving, speaking and acting in ways that are consistent with the guiding principles and values that you commit to — the guiding principles and values that help you grow in credibility. In principle, it should make little difference what community you find yourself in.

Your ability to live with integrity in your community is easier when the values of your community align with your own — when the promises that the members of the community make to one another about how they will act and interact agree with the promises you make to yourself about how you will behave, speak and act.

For instance, one of the values of my community of professional leadership trainers is that we appreciate and look out for one another. I consider that this aligns with my personal values of honor other. The wording is different, to be sure, but as I think about the spirit that underlies these two values, I am comfortable with saying that the behaviors and actions that originate from my core around honor others are consistent with my professional community’s shared value that we appreciate and look out for one another.

Now to you. Given the values of your chosen community, let’s look to where you are in agreement — that is, with which values it is easy for you to live with integrity, to live from your core?


Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Chapter 4: Community Values

Community values — or shared values — are the promises that we make to one another about how we will act and interact. Shared values hold a community together, whether it be a family, friends, a fellowship, neighbors, a virtual network, a town, a team, a troop, a company, a country or a culture. Shared values are our glue. When we collectively adhere to a set of shared principles about how we will act and interact with one another, we strengthen our bond as a community. Conversely, when we fail to adhere to our shared values, we weaken our communal bond — we become unglued.

At the extreme, when there is no set of values that are commonly shared and actively observed by the members of a community, there is no community. There is, perhaps, a collection of individuals who inhabit the same space and time but who (understandably) are acting in their own self-interest, often in ways that serve to keep them apart from one another rather than create the bonds that hold them together as a part of a whole.

Let’s take a look at your communities. Begin by considering them all. Think about the various bands and crowds with whom you come together (real or virtual) to support and serve one another. Choose one. It could be any other community that is particularly influential in your life.

What do you consider to be the essential handful of shared values of that community?

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Character: Be the Self You Want to Live With

When, by virtue of curiosity and humility, you are in touch with the truth about the qualities at your core (good, bad or indifferent), you can look to the future and ask:

Who or how do I aspire to be (that is different from who or how I am today)?

Why do I care?

What are my concerns or reservations about whether this is possible?


What do I need to do in the future to grow in integrity?

What do I need to do to grow in credibility?

Spend time pondering these questions with whole-minded curiosity, and welcome the responses that percolate to the surface with wholehearted humility. Seek insight in your responses — that is, look for a shift in perception that gives you a better and fuller understanding of your core, the person you aspire to be, and why. Your insight will help you decide on priorities for your continued growth as a human being, as a citizen and as a leader in your community. Finally, commit yourself to a regular practice of behaving and acting in ways that will contribute to your being that person. It is this regular practice that leads to mastery — mastery of both your personal integrity and your credibility. The reward that you reap over time will be a life that has more and greater meaning — a life that enriches your spirits and those of the people around you.

When you say and do those things that are consistent with the principles and values that you hold most dear and aspire to in life, you are taking principle-guided action. Indeed, if your point of departure as you set out in pursuit of what you want (i.e., your goals, objectives, desires) is to reaffirm your commitment to your principles and values, and if, as a result, you do and say only those things that are consistent with your values and principles, then your actions are and will be principle guided.

Yet it will come as no surprise to you if I say: We live in a world where it is tempting (sometimes encouraged, supported, even required) to focus more on what we want to have, or accomplish or experience, and then to say or do whatever seems needed to make it happen. Ours is a world in which the ends often justify the means, or, in real terms, where profit or power (or both) often take precedence over principle.

Since, in the most real way, what we say and what we do defines us, the important question is: Are you being the person you want to be — the person you want to live with? The real work of creating a life of meaning is to be the self you want to live with, rather than being a self you end up having to live with or, worse, a self you cannot stand. 

Excerpted and abridged from The Citizen Leader