What is Socially Responsible Leadership?

This post was written by Michael Evers, a Junior at DePaul seeking a degree in Political Science. Michael is serving in his second year as an Interfaith Scholar and currently holds the position of President of DePaul Hillel.

What does it mean to be a socially responsible leader? More so, what does it mean for me in my own life and my own leadership and how do I apply the principles I conjure up to those I serve? These will be the guiding questions for this essay and, I should mention here, serve as a model for, what I believe, to be socially responsible leadership.

The very idea that leadership is social, which it certainly is, makes me believe that part of being social is being aware of what is occurring in society around me. Leadership is about enabling the group of people around you to have the tools, abilities, and confidence to tackle what ever it is they are facing. As the problems in society change, so must a leader. At the same time though, a leader must be able to direct the people they are helping to steward, but also be willing to be led by them; another aspect of being social is understanding that “the leader”, is very much a part of the group dynamic, not alone and on top of the mountain.

To illustrate, in my own faith tradition, Judaism, there is a story of Moses leading the people, but in a very unexpected way. As God decrees to Moses, his job is to take all the Israelites out of Egypt, which number somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. Moses complains that it is an impossible task – how does one manage that many people, flee Pharaoh’s army, and guarantee everyone’s safety while running for their lives? Moses is bewildered and figures out the answer for himself. As he is fleeing Egypt, with the Israelites, he recognizes that he must lead the people, though, if he is too far ahead, those in the back will be lost to him. Therefore, he must ensure everyone’s safety, and must lead the herd from the back, but then those in the front, without the vision of freedom and knowledge of where to go, will lead them all astray. So, what does the guy do? Simple. He leads from the middle. Moses discovers that from the center, amongst the group and part of it, he can direct the front for those who are fast of feet and keep the back in tow, while ensuring that everyone makes it out.

I often keep this story in mind when I take the leadership role in my groups – Hillel and Interfaith scholars. I very much understand that I am a student, like everybody else – with interests, preoccupations, and sleep deprivation. Simultaneously, I have also elected myself to be a leader and therefore must take on the duty of serving my peers in some capacity by being in tune with them and the places they are at – emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Whether that comes through by leading programs directly (leading from the head), talking to a lonely student to encourage participation (leading from behind), or just being present in the moment and not exerting my authority, but helping out my peers by the very act of participation (being in the middle) I show my leadership. Even more so, I am being socially responsible because I recognize where my place is in a particular group dynamic and act accordingly to help facilitate whatever activity is occurring.

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