January 2017 Issue
January 30, 2017

Magee: REAL leaders LEAD

Author: Karen E. Magee, President
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT President Karen Magee

There's been a lot of talk lately about leadership. And rightly so.

An obvious focus, of course, has been on the recent leadership change in Washington, D.C.; a change that has been dramatic in both style and substance.

In Albany, especially at this time of year, we look to our elected leaders to establish the state's priorities through the budget and legislative processes. What they do helps determine who we are as a state and a citizenry.

Last year, we witnessed — and led the charge for — a sea change in leadership at the State Education Department and the Board of Regents, changes that have put public education and our professions back on the right track. Sure, much more needs to be done in this arena, but, through our united efforts, we have moved past the era of "test-and-punish" while, at the same time, finding allies in parents and the public.

And we've seen leadership turn toxic with the despicable actions of a Buffalo school board member who is the poster child for everything a leader should not be.

NYSUT is blessed with many great leaders; women and men who selflessly put the needs of their members and of the New Yorkers they serve ahead of their own. They make our union strong and effective.

As a union leader for more than a few years now — or, to be accurate, more than a few decades now — I've had the opportunity to think deeply and often about the importance of good leadership and what it means:

  • Someone who will take on the tough challenges without first calculating "What's in it for me?"
  • Someone who will hold others accountable without fear.
  • Someone who will listen to and act on behalf of her constituency.
  • Someone who will stand up for her beliefs, regardless of popular opinion.
  • Someone who will stay the course when a decision is made.

In other words, someone who sees leadership as something bigger than self.

Media executive Keri Potts has a definition of leadership I can fully embrace: "As a leader, the only way I know how to engender trust and buy-in from my team and with my colleagues is to be 100 percent authentically me — open, sometimes flawed, but always passionate about our work."

On Jan. 21, I marched in Seneca Falls, home of the National Women's Hall of Fame. I was one of millions across the globe standing in solidarity for our rights and for justice. During the march, I had time to think about the many women leaders, past and present. One who came to mind was Shirley Chisholm, a Hall of Fame inductee who we featured on a NYSUT poster for Women's History Month.

The first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, Chisholm was a New York City educator and child care manager. Her legacy is one of being a passionate and effective advocate for the needs of people of color, poor people, women and children. She changed the nation's perception about the capabilities of women and of African-Americans.

Chisholm said, and I agree: "You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas."

That's what we do at NYSUT. We don't stand on the sidelines. We jump right in and tackle the many challenges facing the labor movement, our members and our professions. And we lead from a position of courage and conviction.

It's a position with which we're very familiar and very successful.