July 5, 2010

Change for the better

When I awoke today and checked my email and Twitter accounts (in that order), I saw the Barack Obama quote that I have listed as the quote of the day: We are the ones that we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.  This quote spoke to me on the day following Independence Day and reminded me of a saying often mentioned by a fellow Optimist Club member, "If it is to be, it is up to me."

My friend credits the latter statement to a past international president of Optimist International, but I found that the quote actually belongs to a man named William H. Johnsen. Although no biography appears readily available for Mr. Johnsen, it is quite apparent from entries on Wikipedia that he had something to do with building, flying and/or documenting military aircraft.

It seems to me that Optimist International leaders often have a legacy of military service. Military leaders are excellent managers. They know how to command and motivate troops to follow orders that often take them into harm's way. Military leaders and their troops accept the on-the-ground responsibility to get things done and they are accountable to those whom they serve. Rising through military ranks is very orderly, based on a do this, this and this and then you are eligible for that premise.

My thought for today for Optimist International or any service club or organization is that model doesn't work anymore. The first reason it doesn't work has to do with critical mass.  With declining numbers in traditional service clubs, there are not as many people available who have fulfilled the "this, this, this and then that" role.

The second reason it doesn't work is since the Baby Boomer generation began, our country has raised independent thinkers and doers. It is widely accepted that with the right amount of encouragement and passion that anyone can be an entrepreneur. The same is true for thought leaders: people create their own forums and generate their own followers. Individuals are less likely to follow the "this, this, this, and then that" model and even if they do, they do so at a much quicker pace than those who came before them.

The third reason this model no longer works has to do with attitude. Consider the very slight difference in these words:

  • If it is to be; it is up to me 
  • We are the change that we seek
Both recognize that personal involvement is crucial; however, one is self-centered while the other is altruistic. One says I can do it alone; the other says I want and need help from others. 

Consider the latter for a moment. If we have collectively become a nation of entrepreneurs, when we ask for help and embrace the contributions of others, we are in fact recognizing their different skills and abilities. We therefore inherently accept that others can and will exceed our abilities and perhaps rise to greater power. That is the true essence of change. 

I believe that is the true essence of change for the better. 
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