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The Role of a Leader in Times Like These

Guest Article by OAMES 2017 Annual Meeting Speaker Sandra Harbrecht


If Americans can agree on one thing, it may be that we live in interesting times. If they can agree on two things, they might also say they are hungry for true leadership.

Recent events and disasters, both natural and human-inspired, cause us to turn toward voices that can lead us forward when the path is not so clear.

Certainly, those voices are out there. They ring out in places like Houston, Miami, San Cristóbal de las Casas – all the places where first responders organize rescues and neighbors mobilize food drives.

Yet, the voices we hear at other times are often loud and empty, completely audible but wholly unable to steer us toward a common goal. These voices tell us the answers are easy, if only we would think as they do and reject the other side.

In fact, leadership, as life, is never easy. When leaders are called upon to make difficult decisions, the path forward is seldom crystal clear.

Even the sanctified advice to “just do what’s right” can cause agony in practice. Almost every decision requires us to ask ourselves, “What is right for my customers?”; “What is right for my employees or co-workers?”; “What is right for my neighbors, my city, my state?”; “What is right for our reputation?”

Leaders can’t choose the challenges they face, or the course of human events. But there’s one thing we can control that goes beyond our day-to-day decisions. And that is how we approach leadership and demonstrate it to others.

We can think about leadership as the example we set within our companies. We can think about leadership as the kind of people we choose to hire. We can think about it as the tone we set within our organizations and within our communities.

In the end, the most important question a leader needs to answer may be this one: “Do my actions help those around me become better than they ever thought possible?”

Leaders who can answer “yes” are probably making their organizations stronger and, at the same time, nurturing a new generation of voices capable of leading us in the future.

We’ll need them. Because there will always be interesting times.


Sandra W. Harbrecht, President and CEO

Paul Werth Associates



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