Beyond the Popular Vote: Leadership Required to Carry Detroit Forward

Downtown Detroit, 2017.

“There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two. ” -Bertolt Brecht

With the candidate filing and withdrawal deadline for city elections now passed, 2017 is shaping to be a pivotal year for the city of Detroit. We have an incumbent mayor facing perhaps his toughest challenge yet in a legacy candidate with instant name recognition, and a slew of faces new and old vying for all council seats. Additionally, the race for city clerk has sparked a new interest and become a coveted, vulnerable seat following the fiasco of the 2016 election in Detroit.

Yet, as with every election cycle, we are sure to hear familiar campaign messages and promises of why the particular candidate is best for the office desired. However, given the active and intense political climate following the 2016 election, the expectations to deliver on the campaign rhetoric are higher than ever. In this light, even more necessary than delivering on those promises  is the way in which the delivery will be implemented- through leadership.

Candidates must be aware that Detroit is hungry for a different style of leadership in public office. Therefore, to be successful in this election cycle and beyond, candidates must think past the ballot box, not only presenting plans for the city’s continuing success, but demonstrating leadership qualities necessary for delivering their vision for the city. In turn, this begs the question: what styles and qualities of leadership will emerge to avoid empty promises and move the city forward for all of its residents and stakeholders alike?

Ironically, despite needing the popular vote to win the election, candidates must be comfortable with being unpopular. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd (Max Lucado).” This requires being unpopular not in the sense that no one will like you, but an understanding that you are not out to please everyone. Candidates must know that everyone will not agree with them or like them, and that is okay so long as they are doing what is best for their constituents- the people whom they lead and will follow when their interests and needs are first priority.

Candidates must be brave, and in the realm of politics, this means willing to be subject to public scrutiny in all facets of professional and personal life. In particular, for first time candidates without a familiar body of work to put forth, personal records matter, as it may be all one can be judged by. Nevertheless, candidates must be able to withstand the criticism because not everyone will agree with all their policies, even their staunchest supporters. Without criticism, potential leaders are destined to fail due to lack of diverse input and challenge. At the same time, candidates must be brave enough to own their record and unafraid to challenge others to do the same.

In relation, life is nothing without adversity. As a public official, adversity is magnified on center stage, but candidates must be unwavering in the face of adversity and able to rise above all obstacles. Significantly, as desired leaders, candidates must also be bold enough to speak up for those without a voice, use their platforms to influence change, and stand firmly in spite of challenges from opponents who would seek to tear them down. Nothing will convince others to follow more than one who stands strong and refuses to give up during the toughest times.

Perhaps most of all, candidates must be honest- be real about what’s real. People are looking to you for answers- tell them what you know. And if you don’t know- say so. Not only is it okay to admit you don’t know, but you are only human and will never be perfect, so by necessity, you will never know everything. This is just fine, and people will understand so long as you are honest. They see through dishonesty and can be completely put off when the truth is revealed. Once trust is broken, it is hard to mend, but people are generally more willing to forgive a sincere apology than an intentional coverup.

In case of a breach of honesty, and let’s be truthful, it happens- be accountable. Be able to accept your mistakes and shortcomings. Don’t hide behind them, blame others, or worse- stay quiet and say nothing. Again, as a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Be as honest in your faults as you are in your triumphs. Furthermore, don’t allow your faults to derail or stall you along your path. Accept the consequences of your actions and move forward. Life continues in spite of your downfalls. Don’t get swept away with it, particularly if you are in  a position to advance others. Provide solutions, not excuses, and forge ahead.

Finally, and most importantly, a leader must always look to the future. “Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation (Simon Sinek).” Whomever is elected to office come November must think today what his or her legacy will be once their term has ended. If it does not include a plan for the future leadership of Detroit, their work is a failed mission, and we will again be left seeking the leadership that we yearn for today.


Life Ends at 20: Preparing for the Worst Case Scenario

Family Life. Cincinnati, 2017.

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” -Euripides

Although the youth are regarded as the leaders of tomorrow, death comes at any age, meaning it is as near to the young as it is to the old. Often, the field of estate planning is viewed as an area of practice reserved to elderly clients. However, while older clients have lived longer lives to accumulate more assets, have more family, and therefore protect a potentially larger estate than a younger individual, young people potentially have just as much to lose.

The millenial generation, credited as individuals aged 18-35, along with baby boomers, make up the largest segment of the US population. As this group of people moves further into adulthood and constitute larger segments of the working population, they accumulate personal responsibilities such as marriage, parenthood, homeownership, and household financial decisions.

Additionally,  many millenials and other younger individuals (35-50) often find themselves caught in the sandwich generation– caring for their elderly family members, including parents and grandparents, along with minor children. Therefore, in spite of accumulation of property or liquid assets, family obligations loom large, begging the question, what would happen in the event of their deaths, or, are they prepared for the worst case scenario?

According to research, likely not. A recent Gallup poll revealed that only 44% of Americans reported having a will, but just 14% of Americans under 30 reported having a will, and only 35% aged 30-49 reported the same. Further, life insurance is a tool that can be used to create an estate and pay a death benefit to named beneficiaries. Yet, according to a 2015 Insurance Barometer Study, 43% of Americans do not own a policy, with a whopping 70% of individuals under 25 reporting that they did not own a policy. To put a face to these numbers and demonstrate the fragility of youth, I offer an example from my own family: my cousin, who was murdered at age 23, leaving behind a minor daughter under age 5.

So in light of such responsibility, what can you do to prepare for the time when you will not be around to shoulder the load? This is where estate planning not only comes in handy, but becomes a young person’s best defense against the uncertain and unexpected.

First, identify your heirs at law- most commonly spouses and children, and second, identify your assets. Who would get what? Additionally, who would you choose to administer your estate, or in other words, follow your wishes and make distributions? Choose wisely. While family is usually the most common choice, you must consider whether the individuals named are equipped with the skills and temperament to follow your guidelines, protect your assets, and make wise legal and financial decisions.

Next, choose how your estate would be administered, traditionally through three means- by will, by trust, or by state law. Wills are the most common and popular, as well as the simplest means, but individuals with larger assets may want to consider a trust for privacy and tax purposes. Dying intestate- or without a will- means your estate will follow state law, which may not be harmful, but may fail to follow your intents. In this respect, it is more beneficial to use a will or trust to better reflect your wishes and choose the individuals you wish to include in your plan.

Most significantly, the biggest need for young people with young families is naming of a guardian for minor children. This is something that can only be done in a will or separate guardianship form. A trust can never name a guardian, nor can dying intestate. Additionally, a conservator can be named to make financial decisions for the support and maintenance of minor children, as they do not have the legal capacity to make such decisions for themselves.

Finally, research wisely and consider investing in a life insurance policy to protect beneficiaries in the event of death. It can be used as a useful and inexpensive tool, particularly for younger people with family obligations, as rates are based on age and health, which is most favorable for  younger individuals. Most importantly, life insurance will restore loss of income, giving your family financial protection to pay for continued costs and expenses.

In closing, these are a few basic ways to prepare for the worst case scenario, and while there are many resources available to learn more about this topic, it can be overwhelming and time consuming to go at it alone. Consulting with an estate planning attorney about the best options for your circumstances will save time and provide maximum value for minimal cost, while protecting your assets, family, and legacy. Life is precious. Enjoy every moment, and do not fail to plan for loved ones who will remain after your end.