Kenneth L. Hardin: Real leaders put in the work

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 20, 2022

Now that we’re several weeks into 2022, I admit I never bought into that January 1st “New Year, New Me” nonsense. How does the turn of a calendar automatically mean your life will be  significantly better if you don’t put in actual work to make it so? Have we gotten so lazy, uninspired and unimaginative that we assume our lives will magically improve just because time marches forward?  If you don’t take control of your life, you’ll be in the same place when Baby New Year escorts Father Time out of the door and closes it behind him on the first day of 2023.

I get all the rebirth conjecture associated with having a clean slate of 365 days to fill up. I’ve made resolutions in the past of getting healthier, leaving drama behind, focusing on personal growth, keeping in touch with friends more, getting closer to family, yadda, yadda, yadda. I would put energy into it the first month, but by the time Black History Month was done, I was back to being the same dude I had always been. I finally accepted the attitude that I wouldn’t allow the mythical magical little baby to dictate my mindset. I chuckle when I read folk writing how they won’t take people who’ve disrespected them all year into the next calendar one. Why did it take you an entire year to come to that realization?  I’ve seen people say how in the next year they won’t buy into gossip or entertain those who carry water and bones. It didn’t take me 52 weeks to know I should shoot both the messenger and those who crafted it.

All of this talk of owning your life’s progress made me think about leadership. I wish many of our so-called community leaders today would be less concerned about making history, and more concerned with doing things that are worthy to actually make history. Dr. King said it best back in 1956, “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”  I realize there’s not an application or job interview selection process to be considered a leader, but the criteria needs to be a bit more stringent to ascend to that lofty height where people put their faith in you to guide their lives. We have too many culture hustlers residing on both sides of the racial divide coin pontificating but accomplishing nothing. The goal seems to be to get anointed with the title of “one to watch” while inevitably failing to make a dent in societal ills by the year’s end. We have people who’ve occupied political offices for consecutive terms and tout success, but can’t explain why crime and violence steadily increase while economic development, apathy, decreased civic engagement and hopelessness amongst the people remain. Stagnant longevity in a position is not an adequate indicator to determine success as a leader.

  I taught leadership development to hospital staff from the person sweeping and mopping floors up to the board of directors.  I taught from the perspective that you don’t need a title to be a leader. It was difficult for those working in housekeeping to understand and believe this to be true, but with the current COVID pandemic, who’s more important in hospitals now?  What is a leader and how do you develop into a strong one? The late retired Army General Colin Powell said, “Being responsible means sometimes pissing people off. Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the entire group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity; you’ll avoid the tough decisions, and you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted…by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.”

Oh. I’ve perfected the art of pissing people off.

Personal accountability is the cornerstone. You have to care more about the success of the whole and the people you’re serving more than being recognized for the title.  Dr. Cornel West said, “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” So, as I wait for Baby New Year 2023, I’m going to continue to put work in personally and professionally, and not just flip calendar pages hoping not to rub someone the wrong way.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a former City Councilman, a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, and Founder of The High Road, Inc. (