Courageous Leadership and Followership in Congress

Several years ago I had the honor of facilitating the design of a meeting of the Club of Madrid.

The 80 members of the rarified Club of Madrid are former Heads of Government or Heads of State from Democratic countries who have been invited to lend their experience to help other newly formed or emerging democracies. At least 75% of members must come from countries that have transitioned to Democracy since 1975. Some of them are true heroes of the transition of their country from authoritarian regimes.

One of the outstanding Members I met at that time is Dame Jenny Shipley, former Prime Minister of New Zealand.  I shared with her the Op-Ed I wrote on Congress’s Tragedy of the Political Commons that was recently published in The Washington Post.  Dame Shipley sent me back a typically poignant observation:

“I read your OP-ED with interest. It is a fascinating conundrum that so many people around the world are fighting for democratic freedom and yet those of us who enjoy it do not really understand how we are in our own way unwinding its very strengths.”

Whatever combination of leadership and followership roles we play as citizens, as elected officials, as the staff who support them and the constituents who vote for or against them, we must relearn to deeply value the freedoms we have, the institutions designed to defend them, and the processes and tools that exist for correcting them. We each must take our own stand against behavior that tears down our institutions and for behavior that works to improve them. THAT is courageous followership and courageous leadership.

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