Since its conception, leadership has been confounded in layers of meaning and connotation. It is a skill desired by nearly every employer under the sun, but its influence is misunderstood by many, and rarely seen.
The quintessential example of a leader is one who commands a country or organization. The position of the presidency is a prime example of leadership in America. But, the definition of leadership has a verb in it, which implies action — something our current president knows very little about.
Nearly three weeks ago, Hurricane Maria — a Category 4 storm — swept through the Caribbean, destroying the infrastructure of Puerto Rico and leaving thousands without food, clean water, electricity and means of communication.
Similar to reactions of George W. Bush’s inaction after Hurricane Katrina, President Donald Trump received major backlash after failure to quickly and effectively send federal relief to the ailing territory. Given that the presidency is a position defined by action, Trump’s lack of response raises several questions in terms of political responsibility. By failing to command his nation, the president does not fulfill the definition of a leader. So, who is to lead when the heads of the country are standing still?
The answer was found in the most unlikely of places — from the mouth of a Broadway legend. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Tony Award-winning musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” led multiple efforts to aid Puerto Rico, the land his father emigrated from and where some of his family still resides. As of Oct. 7, Miranda has been collecting supplies in Washington Heights — the epicenter for New Yorkers of Caribbean descent, the setting of Lin-Manuel’s first musical and his childhood home. The playwright was quoted tweeting, “Collecting supplies at 5030 Broadway today! Bring yer diapers, water! Bring tampons! Anything you need, Puerto Rico needs!”
Collecting supplies at 5030 Broadway today!
Bring yer diapers, water!
Anything you need, 🇵🇷 needs!
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) October 7, 2017
Miranda’s relief efforts did not stop at the material. Rather, in the fashion of a true artist, Miranda collaborated with notable Latin performers such as Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Camila Cabello, Gina Rodriguez, Gloria Estefan and Luis Fonsi to produce the track “Almost Like Praying,” the profits of which will go to the Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOS Disaster Relief Fund for Puerto Rico.
The song was conceptualized after the song “Maria” from the musical West Side Story, a celebration of Latin culture, and the namesake of the storm, adding a deeper meaning to the already powerful song. Through camaraderie and the creation of art as beautiful as it is exigent, an artist became the leader providing the relief that America’s political leader could not.
Aside from the goodwill of Latin artists and the power of social media, Miranda’s efforts prove a frighteningly impactful truth — anyone can be a leader, even when they are not the leader. Lin-Manuel did not have to win an election to make change. He simply used his resources to rally for a cause and help his homeland.
Despite the fact that many do not have Miranda’s level of influence, the integral skills of leadership are still there. It was not Miranda’s explicit responsibility to help Puerto Rico — he had a personal interest in doing what is right. Anyone can go beyond their explicit responsibilities to help their fellow man. Anyone can be a leader without being in charge.
In essence, leadership is not a title or fixed definition, but a series of attributes. Regardless of position, social or economic background, race or status, anyone can be a leader by using proper communication, charisma, flexibility and cooperation. Most importantly, leadership means improving the world not because it is your responsibility, but simply because it is the right thing to do.
Abby Steinberg ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.