How many times have you heard people at neighborhood bars, restaurants, or ball games complain about their community? How many times have you been a part of those moan-and-groan sessions?
Stop complaining and start making a difference. As the saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Don't be a grumbler. Be a leader. Here are ten steps you should master on your way to being a respected and effective leader in YOUR community:
1. Make sure you are first a good citizen.
The key to good citizenship is loyalty. Do you respect the institutions of your community and country? In other words, do you just "mouth" the Pledge of Allegiance or do you live it? Does your life reflect that of a respectful, law-abiding, tax-paying, constructive citizen? Are you the kind of citizen that adds to society or takes away from it? In any organization, a good leader must first be a good example. It is no different with your nation, state, or municipality. So, obey the law, maintain a good attitude, register to vote, and be an example.
2. Know who your elected officials are - at each level of government.
Call your local Registrar and verify the political districts of your residence along with the elected official that serves each of those districts. For example, each state has two U.S. senators and a governor. Get their names, office numbers, and addresses. Find out what U.S. House of Representatives or congressional district do you live in? Get the district number and then the name and contact information for your U.S. Representative. Repeat this process for the state legislative districts you live in - you should have a state-level senator and a state-level representative or delegate. Then, go to your city or county level and finally, if you live in one, your town. Once you know your elected officials, the levels in which they serve (national, state, or local) and their contact information, you're ready to start contacting them - and influencing them.
3. Stay informed on the issues
Get to know the issues that your elected officials at their respective levels of government are facing. That means you must follow the news. In this Information Age, there is no excuse for being ignorant. For federal-level issues, you can listen to the radio during your commute to and from work, watch TV at night, read one of the major dailies each morning or at lunch, or read through any number of news websites. For state and local matters, you have your local papers, local radio stations, and plenty of information accessible over the Internet. Don't be an ignorant voter that's easily manipulated by bumper stickers and sound bytes. Be informed.
4. Stay in touch with your elected officials on the issues
Write your officials, not just with complaints or requests. But compliment them when they vote the way you think they should. Look for opportunities to speak at public hearings. It's easy to get a chance to address your local School Board or county Board of Supervisors or Commissioners. It's easier than you think to do the same at the state level.
5. Periodically read the Declaration of Independence (especially the first paragraphs) along with other writings that inspire you and fuel your philosophy on life.
You should always remember why you believe in what you believe. As a citizen of the United States, you should know why we have a country to begin with. Read the document that started it all - the Declaration of Independence. Get in touch with how sacred the Founding Fathers considered the idea of popular consent and self-government. In addition, read books on faith and philosophy - things that help explain the world we're in. If you're a Christian, read the Bible daily. Always get to the foundation of what you believe and why. That will fuel your passion and make your a leader of purpose and conviction.
6. Master the framework of your government.
As the old saying goes, the "devil is in the details." When Lyndon Johnson first came to Congress, he became an effective leader very quickly, because he, among other things, mastered the intricacies of congressional rules and procedures. To be an effective leader, you must know the lay of the land better than your followers. For starters, this means understanding the nature of your government. That means, among other things, reading and studying the Constitution of the United States, which lays out the three-branch system of government we have at every level of our society. Then, study the laws of your state and locality. Go over the rules of your community group, homeowners association, and so forth. Learn parliamentary procedure. Be knowledgeable. As James Madison said, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance."
7. Stick your neck out
Ultimately, a leader must lead. Once you've set a good example, learned who your officials are, opened a basic relationship with them as an informed constituent, and mastered both your belief system and the framework within which you're operating, it's time to get out there - and lead. By doing so, you will be the kind of leader everyone respects and many will follow. And you will look back on your successes later in life, knowing that you did your part.