I have to admit that I identify with Mayor Calderone. You see, I’m also an elected official. Last February, I was elected president of my condominium association.
Now, I want to make something perfectly clear. I am not using this position as a steppingstone to higher – read “better-paying” – office, such as village commissioner, for example. And if you don’t think my adult children do a good enough job of preventing me from getting a big head over my political success, you might remind me that the budget I administer amounts to a little over $100,000 – peanuts compared with the millions of dollars our village officials oversee every year.
Nevertheless, I and the other 54 condo association presidents in town experience many of the same blessings and curses that elected leaders at any level encounter. And that gives us the right to weigh in on the care and feeding of those who lead.
Leaders need care and feeding. We condo presidents – and congregational, chamber of commerce, and service club presidents – receive no salary for our service, but we do need to get “paid.” I don’t know of any leader whose skin is so thick that he or she has never lost sleep over criticism.
Most of us don’t expect people to agree with us on every issue. Neither do we expect to win every vote. What most of us want is respect: that is, just a simple acknowledgement that we really do have the good of community in mind when we make a decision – even if sometimes that’s not true.
What I mean by “even if sometimes that’s not true” is that if we are honest with ourselves, all elected officials will admit that sometimes they are motivated by self-interest or simply wanting to win. The problem with a lot of the criticism, or even praise, that we get is that it becomes personal. It’s just not helpful to impugn the motives of anyone. First, because none of us are in a position to judge. Second, because elected officials need care and feeding. And third, because getting personal helps produce the political polarization that frustrates so many of us. Mayor Calderone and Commissioner Tellalian both felt compelled to write letters to the editor last week “to set the record straight.” I compliment both of them for their verbal restraint.
So here’s a rule I learned from a friend about how to give criticism. You should give two “attaboys” for every “you screwed up.” That was a rule he used as a manager for how he related to employees. Can you imagine Rush Limbaugh giving two compliments to President Obama for every one criticism? Or can you picture Stephen Colbert doing the same when verbally sparring with Mr. Limbaugh.
Leaders need care and feeding. When you hear a leader respond to criticism by saying “I have a thick skin,” beware. To be a good leader, you need to have a skin thin enough to empathize with the people you serve. It’s true in condo association meetings. It’s true at all levels of government.
Having a thin enough skin to empathize with those who disagree with you doesn’t mean you have to check your brain at the door. I’ll give you an example that relates to the issue of open meetings. Our condo board recently contracted to have our hallway walls painted. When one of the board members wondered if we should ask all 50 unit owners in the building what color we should use, we soon came to the conclusion that having that kind of “open meeting” would erode whatever good we hoped to create by increasing participation. Some issues are so subjective that involving everyone can actually undermine community.
When giving feedback to your condo association board members or writing a letter to the editor of the Review regarding something an elected official did or didn’t do, try giving two “attaboys” for every one “you screwed up.” If it’s true that all politics is local, we might just be taking a few baby steps towards diminishing the polarization in this country by recognizing that each of us is a vulnerable human being, especially our leaders.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.