Good day to you.
Earlier this week Ann Ackerman, the Executive Director of Leadership Oklahoma, spent a session with you sharing part of her story and insights she has acquired across her multi-faceted career. Leadership Oklahoma is one of the most effective and influential networks in our state. As she explained, each year 50 participants are selected from across Oklahoma frame every region and sector of society. They are united in their conviction that our communities in the state matter as places where people live, work, raise families and make contributions to the prosperity of their cities and towns. They are equally focused on intentionally growing the leadership for our communities and our state. LOK is comprised of over 1350 alumni who use their experience during their LOK year to learn more about the opportunities and challenges in the state, to build connections, and then to branch out from their “class” to those who benefitted from LOK before and after their year. Ann has served as the coordinator of LOK with distinction.
As you move into your professional careers, I encourage you be involved in organizations and activities, such as LOK, that are dedicated to advancing the quality of life in the state. It is one way to actively craft your leadership skills and, via collaboration, to create community outcomes with other service-oriented citizens. Oklahoma, our country and the planet will be shaped by those who take the initiative.
This week has seen another round of startling developments that again call our attention to the seminal role of leadership. On the international stage, interpersonal contacts and conversations on the sidelines of the main meetings that opened the 68th annual session of the United Nations in New York City have produced some unprecedented results and perhaps opened pathways for more cooperation on protracted global issues.
The principal public actors for the USA have been Sec of State John Kerry and President Obama. This week both the President and the recently elected Irani President Hassan Rouhani demonstrated leadership on the global stage in deciding, at first via intermediaries, and then by phone and perhaps Twitter and text, to find a pathway to resolve the overarching issue of Iran’s nuclear program. One of the reasons why this action has been so startling is that the two countries have had virtually no direct formal contact since 1979 and the Iranian revolution which overthrew their monarch, the Shah, who was a staunch US ally.
One result was the takeover of the US embassy in Teheran and the captivity of US diplomatic personnel for 444 days. Once close regional allies, the USA and Iran have be estranged for decades. This isolation of Iran, particularly due to concerns about the intention of its nuclear enrichment program (make weapons?), has not resolved the issues. But changes in leadership and bold actions at the right moment can have a powerful effect of breaking through what can appear to be impenetrable impasses. Presidents Obama and Rouhani, and Sec of State and his Iranian counterpart are creating a fresh platform from which to understand the current situation from all sides as well as identifying possible pathways to resolution. This is diplomacy practiced by the highest ranking political leaders in both countries.
A second example in the same week also occurred in regard to the debilitating two and one-half year old civil war in Syria. The leading players were the USA and Russia and the issue was the use of chemical weapons in the country which resulted in the deaths of almost 1500 Syrian citizens. The overall civil war tolls are staggering with an estimated 100,000 killed, and several million displaced in their own country or have fled to become refugees in neighboring states.
This past Friday evening the UN Security Council voted unanimously to condemn the use of these weapons. This is important because due to the impasse between the US and Russia, as well as other countries, no action has been taken by the international community to address the calamity in Syria since in commenced in March 2011. Again, it was individual leadership (Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov) and the connections that they made between them and their staffs that account for this unanticipated outcome. There is much more to be decided and further steps to be taken, but it was individual leaders, actual people making connections and finding common ground, that created the outcomes.
There will be more to watch not only on the global stage, but significantly in the USA and in Congress this week as political divisions have created an impasse on funding the federal government that could result in a number of intended and unintended consequences.
All this may seem to be too much to digest at once, but these, historic, game-changing events are unfolding at this time. I believe it is valuable for you to understand the sense of the issues and, given our mission in Lessons in Leadership, to observe and comprehend the roles and consequences of leadership, both effective and otherwise. There are worthy lessons to be studied.
This week, Mr, David Cid, the Director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism here in Oklahoma City, will be our special guest.
I wish you a week when you make a new acquaintance, make at least a small difference in someone’s life, and enjoy a hearty laugh.