I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what leadership means, and why it matters.

We’re a couple of weeks into a new presidency. Each day seems to bring a wave of executive orders, nominations, hearings, and pronouncements that hearten some, horrify others and bewilder many. There’s also a level of civic engagement and activism that we haven’t seen in decades. This, too, heartens some, horrifies others, and bewilders many. In dozens of conversations with nonprofit leaders in recent weeks, it’s clear that along with a haze of uncertainty and angst, there’s a growing list of important issues that are demanding people’s attention right now. And who knows what will be happening on the day that you read this.

At this moment in time, an idea that I picked up from the Jesuits strikes a chord: loosely, ‘we are all leaders, leading all the time, either poorly or well’. If that’s true, what does that mean for how we show up, in the public sphere and in our private lives? How do we choose to stand for what we believe in, and how do we respond when we are challenged? What impact are we having within our organizations, our communities, and our families?

These are bewildering and paradoxical times. As I look at the biggest picture, I’m simultaneously horrified and hopeful. I am heartbroken and numb from the fear-mongering, hatred, violence that is happening domestically and globally. At the same time, I’m inspired by the activists, artists, and regular folks—locally and around the world—who are committed to equity, healing, and a vision of a more just and humane future.

As we face the disorienting events of recent weeks and months, I keep coming back to something Cornell West said:

We do not lead by calling ourselves leaders; we lead by raising our questions and loving others in such a way that we keep track of our shared humanity. ~ Dr. Cornell West

There may not be a clear path forward. At the same time, I have deep faith in human kindness, resilience, and what’s possible when we work together. And here’s what I keep coming back to. We face some big choices about what’s ahead. We need to ask ourselves important questions about who we want to be and what we want to stand for, individually and collectively. What would it mean if we really kept track of our shared humanity?

We need to be courageous enough to listen deeply, especially to those whose voices are often marginalized or oppressed, and to those whose life experiences have been really different from our own. This is a time for asking hard questions and for answering them, even when—maybe especially when—the answers are uncomfortable. We need to treat each other with genuine curiosity and compassion. We need to recognize that we’re all in it together. This is a time for reflection, connection, and for actions that are centered on our shared humanity. Whether we like it or not, we are all inherently interdependent. This is a time to be courageous about the kind of world we want to create, and creative about how to build the bridges that are needed to move in that direction.

What would it look like if we cared about the fate of each other’s children as if they were our own?

That’s leadership. That’s love.

It’s not a magic formula, but it feels like a solid start.

YOUR TURN: One thing I know for sure is that we’re in it together, and I’d love to hear your thoughts:

  • What would change if we actively looked for our shared humanity, and we genuinely listened to each other’s stories and struggles?
  • What do you want to take a stand for in the name of our shared humanity? And what will that look like in action?
  • In the face of uncertainty and aggression, what do you so that you can show up as your most courageous, compassionate self?