I’ve been thinking lately about leadership. Our Best Places to Work feature story this month certainly touches on that topic, but it’s recent events on the national stage that got me thinking about what makes a good leader.
I saw examples of true leadership by individuals in late August when the historic floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey overran Houston and south Texas. People risked their own safety to help stranded motorists and residents get to dry land. Neighbor helped neighbor regardless of skin color, political leanings or citizenship. The unity and respect for human life demonstrated during this catastrophe were the antithesis of what was on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks earlier.
It angered and sickened me to see hate glorified during a protest by white supremacists over the city of Charlottesville’s plans to remove a Confederate statue. The event turned violent and left one person dead after a protester ran his car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators. Each white counterprotester who stood up to the bigoted ideology that his or her race is superior showed leadership, as did all those who turned out that day to denounce the racist organizations.
Whether you believe President Donald Trump was too late in condemning white nationalists or that he backpedaled out of fear of offending some of his core supporters, his reaction certainly failed to unite the nation in that moment. This tragic event sparked a national dialogue about Confederate symbolism, and on the local level prompted Madison Mayor Paul Soglin to order the removal of such monuments in Forest Hill Cemetery. It also led University of Wisconsin–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank to direct a group to study the history of the Ku Klux Klan on campus.
Days after that fateful protest, President Trump pardoned a former Arizona sheriff convicted of violating the constitutional rights of Latinos and phased out the protections for young undocumented immigrants through the program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA. His actions are bold, but they motivate me to look elsewhere for the kind of bold leadership that moves us forward instead of backward. Those examples are emerging on the local level, as evidenced by the actions of Soglin and Blank, and by Madisonians who rallied support for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Like the Texans who rescued their neighbors—regardless of skin color—from perilous waters, we sometimes face challenges that define our character. I am grateful for those leaders who do what’s right when defining moments present themselves.
Karen Michel is editor of Madison Magazine.