Celebrities and Everyday Leaders

Michael Jackson.  Steve McNair.  Mark Sanford.  Sarah Palin.  Those we follow, caught between circus and tragedy.

If ever there was a time for Everyday Leaders, it’s now.

With the freedom and democracy we were bestowed on the 4th of July, 1776, I think I’m going to work to make my corner of the world a just little better this week.  Hope you will, too.

Lead with your best self,


  • Very well put, Dan.

    The common thread amongst all four of those you mentioned is that people used to follow them, but not anymore (due to sudden and unexpected circumstances, I might add).

    As you say, when things like that happen, the most important thing you can do is to do your part to make the world a better place.

    Or, as you say, lead with your best self. That’s how leaders are made.

  • Nice comments today, Dan. And the brevity of your words allows the reader to fill in the blanks in terms of how the four people you listed tell a part of the American story.

    Like almost all of us, all four of them are noted for having done good for others, as well as for making mistakes. Michael Jackson was generous, and gave his musical gift to people around the world. In my opinion — and I would have said this before his death — the greatest entertainer of my generation. Quarterback Steve McNair was admired for the good work he did in the community of his adopted home town of Nashville. Mark Sanford, the son of a cardiologist, could have focused on gaining wealth his entire life, but he instead he chose to serve the people of South Carolina. And Sarah Palin, despite being more controversial in Alaska than she was a year ago, was and is still admired by many for economic advancement in Alaska. Further, she seems to be a good daughter, wife, and mother. (I could go into detail about her family, but that would mean that people can do the same with me and all the other readers of this column, so I’m not going to go there.)

    With the exception of Sanford, all came from relatively humble begininnings. Jackson’s family lived in a small house in the steeltown of Gary, Indiana. McNair was the son of a factory worker mother and an offshore oilworker father who left the family early on. Palin’s mother was a school secretary in Idaho, her father a teacher and track coach at the same school. As mentioned previously, Sanford’s father was a cardiologist. So although three of these family’s experienced economic challenges, all contributed to society.

    The notion of everyone contributing to society is certainly a common thread here. For centuries, European composers wrote dramatic compositions and fanfares for kings and queens. In contrast, Aaron Copland wrote “Fanfare for the Common Man,” a piece of notable impact. And as we wrap up the Fourth of July weekend celebration, we can’t help but remember the words of Emma Lazarus, whose words are inscribed an a plaque at our Statue of Liberty, and whose last name itself conveys the biblical story of life arisen from lifelessness:

    From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Dan, all of the people you listed worked to achieve something better than their families and all of us had before. That thought can inspire all of us to try to do the same.

  • Dan,

    We all make a difference to someone every single day. Too bad so many of us don’t realize it!

    You Make A Difference~The TIP Lady

  • Interesting that you chose to include Palin with the other three. She certainly is controversial, but not in the category with pedophile, adulterer, serial liar or married adult man sleeping with 20 year old waitress. Not sure Palin deserves to be lumped in.

  • Dan,

    Thanks for addressing this simple and nearly invisible topic. It is easy to overlook the everyday leader and just as easy to overlook opportunities to lead in everyday situations. I spent a lot of time with my family this weekend, especially with two of my grandsons, age 7 and age 3. One simple, silver lining in the dark grey cloud of unemployment is the extra time I have to spend with them.

    While trying to keep up with them in the back yard, or chasing them around the park, and later watching fireworks over the canal — I remembered the fun times, the playing times, and the quiet times I spent with my grandfathers, and realized again just how much of “me” developed from time spent with them — learning, playing, talking, and sharing. All those little things, those everyday things we talked about were important, more crucial to my future than I could imagine.

    Just how much of Michael Jackson’s personality was shaped by having an overbearing and demanding father? How will McNair’s sudden death affect his own children — differently than his own father’s absense? Palin’s children and grandchildren will be shaped in part by her efforts on their behalf as well as by her political legacy. I doubt that the parents and grandparents of the celebrities you mentioned could conceive the long-range impact of their parenting (or lack of parenting). Parents, grandparents, teachers, care-givers, uncles, aunts, and more all have the awesome opportunity to shape delicate, young minds to may lead the world in the near future. It is a truly transcendent leadership opportunity and an terrible responsibility.

    When out of work, it is easy feel you don’t count — a pothole in the universe. Well, a pothole can force even the President’s entourage to change direction. Those quiet conversations with a grandson or granddaughter might just be the bedrock, the foundation upon which a future leader will base his or her decisions — affecting the lives of countless thousands or millions — or maybe just their own family and friends.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Dan.


  • How diferent the word circus is when it is set aside tragedy, than if put with happiness, and joy. Nearly any person put under the public light can be seen trapped in a confusing and pathetic condition, even the governor of a state; so when I see circus and tragedy side by side, it can be taken as cynicism or as compassion. I will re-read the above to see in which direction the comments have gone.

  • It’s common these days for me to meet people who say, “I love getting your RFL (truthfully, few remember the name or initials of this column).” I always ask, “Have you ever written a comment?” And I explain that often the writing people contribute is often as incisive and more eloquent than my initial effort. Today’s is a good example. Tony thanks for coloring the stories in with your brush, and Mick, aka the Midnight Poet, reminds us from youth and a grandfather’s perspective why everyday leaders matter so very much.

    I can see why people would object to the Pailin inclusion. If I were to get into it in any depth I’d be heading down the very path to which I most object with today’s RFL – the spectatorish, armchair obsession with celebrity(ies). And Sarah Pailin, as a phenomenon, is a terribly good example. Her center ring, unusual announcement must have come as a great relief to Mark Sanford, turning the hot light of American obsession in a different direction.

    But neither I, nor most any of those who read RFL, live in Alaska or South Carolina. My point again: get out of the stands and back on the field to lead where you can!

    Thanks for the comments!

    Dan Mulhern

  • It’s easy to confuse a celebrity with a leader. Why follow a celebrity? Best to follow one’s heart, follow one’s passion, not someone else’s. That takes time, thought / reflection, and courage, especially when everyone else seems to be taking the easy track, following someone else’s lead. Still, that’s what it takes to be a leader, and to lead with our best self. Connect with the reason you were born, and work to accomplish that. Any progress toward that goal will bring a huge sense of empowerment–far more than any elective office or group of followers can provide…

    …or so I believe.

  • Dan,
    My sole contribution to this discussion is to congratualte the Governor for going the distance to get General Electric and General Motors to commit to bring jobs and manuacturing to Michigan. Putting all of the tragedy aside, what better way to start the 4th of July weekend with good news. I applaud the administration for its unrelenting pursuit to bring business and jobs to our state in the face of overwhelming odds and deliberately negative publicity from a so called “think tank” (named after the bridge) that prescribes an economic policy that brought our state and nation into this abysmal economy. Hope yours was a happy and enjoyable 4th.

  • Jim,
    It’s kind of you to share that feedback. Jennifer works non-stop on these issues and I agree that it’s great when there’s some visible success.
    Much more to do, but nice to have someone notice some good in an altogether challenging time!

  • Regarding the inclusion of Gov. Palin in the foursome mentioned by Dan, when I first saw her name, I also wondered if her name should be included. But I felt that the common thread was that they were all in the news in the last week, all have done good for society, and have all made mistakes … like all of us (except for perhaps the news part).

    Another notable death was Robert McNamara. I still remember him well. He was just 44 years old in 1960, and president of the Ford Motor Company when JFK asked him to be secretary of defense. He started out being recognized as a “whiz kid,” but because of his support of the Vietnam conflict (something he later admitted was wrong), he became one of the most hated figures of the 20th Century. Again, for good OR bad, he had a huge impact on our culture, as did the others.

  • Hi, Dan
    You’ve hit on one of my personal themes–that our heroes should not be celebrities or sports figures but the people in our live who touch us and show us the way. I wrote this piece for one of my school-to-home newsletters this year.

    “In my life B.C. (Before Cooke), I wrote for a monthly sports magazine. In an article about heroes, I
    told tales about the truly crazy & downright goofy connection some of my friends felt for their hockey
    heroes. (Well, OK yes, I was one of the crazy people.) Then I ended the article with one of my favor-
    ite little stories.
    My teammate, Kathy, had a two year old son named Michael. One day when Michael’s grandmother
    asked him if he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up, he gave her an incredulous look and said,
    “No, Grandma. I want to be a hockey player, just like my mommy!”
    That’s what I call being heroic—being the strong and admirable person your child wants to become.
    I think that too often “heroes” are sports figures or celebrities who are famous for nothing other
    than being rich. Children see these larger-than-life people everyday on television, on the web, in maga-
    zines, and they start to believe that they’re the ones to emulate. Too often, adults seem to think so,
    I think we should look closer to home. What about the neighbor who’s battling cancer but still puts
    a smile on his face every time he greets your child? What about the dad who drove to the auto plant
    every day so his children could go to college? What about the grandmother who’s raising her grand-
    children because no one else is around? What about the every day people who lead quiet, honest lives?
    What about you? Can you be someone’s hero?
    And—if we need to look farther afield, instead of looking to sports or Hollywood, let’s look to
    Washington, to our new president. Let’s offer him as a role model to our children—a smart man, a
    gracious and dignified man—a man who may make mistakes but who will put forth an honest effort to
    lead our nation to a better place.
    Let’s set our expectations high, teach our children that there’s hero potential in each of us and then
    give them REAL role models to emulate. We’re as good as we choose to be.”

  • >