Arlington, VA

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

I have always been fascinated by leadership. Studies often focus on important aspects of leadership including authenticity, influence, and communication.

Another common theme that I have recently observed is more focus on courage, especially for women. Whether it’s “leaning in,” “courageous leadership” or confronting your fears, successful leaders address their inner doubts and external criticism, and use their voices and talents for good.

Interestingly, leadership advice can sometimes come from the most unlikely sources. In early March I attended the Junior League of Washington’s Women’s Leadership Summit with Carly Fiorina as the keynote speaker. Ms. Fiorina has recently started consulting with nonprofits on leadership. Regardless of her political ideology, I believe her message of encouraging women leaders to confront their fears is compelling.

I recently heard an interview with Jennifer Lopez where she discussed learning how to not internalize criticism she received early in her career. It is an inspiration to know that a former presidential candidate/Hewlett Packard CEO and talented dancer, actress and international celebrity have challenges with finding the courage and confidence to ignore the 24-hour news cycle and negative online commenters and continue living up to their full potential.

Amid our current COVID-19 reality, opportunities for leadership abound. Some of our leaders are stepping up to the plate, and others are faltering. During a recent interview on COVID-19, a health professional admitted that she is scared, but she must leave that at the hospital door. She can’t effectively serve her patients if she is afraid.

A March 27 article by Aisha S. Ahmad in The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that we should recognize that life has been changed forever by COVID-19. We may slowly start to return to work, dine in restaurants, exercise at the gym, and meet in large groups in a few weeks, but we won’t ever forget this experience.

Sometimes it’s easy to only remember the negative aspects of a traumatic situation. I personally hope that I never forget how I am marveling at the countless health professionals, grocery store workers and other essential personnel whose names we will never know, who bravely battle the pandemic. Or how I admire the leadership in Arlington: those starting community corps and Facebook groups, the entrepreneurs who innovatively pivot to new business models to keep their employees working, the nonprofits that collaborate for those most in need and even local leaders who are both praised and criticized for every decision.

I don’t ever want to forget the spirit of community I felt when I left a roll of paper towels outside the home of a total stranger in Fairlington who posted in the Facebook group “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 “because I purchased a large pack from Costco a few months back. Or that I was moved to get off my couch and dance around my living room after being inspired by a DJ who was live-streaming hip-hop and 90s music from his basement to raise money and secure matching chicken donations for those on the front lines during the pandemic.

When we begin our post-pandemic lives, I lament that the fear, death, isolation, nonsensical press conferences, persistent media, and any missteps by our leadership will remain in our psyche. We are all applauding the courage of our community today. On the other side of this pandemic, my hope for our community is that the “Arlington Way” will encompass people who have the courage to allow both our individual and collective experiences to transform us into a permanently courageous community.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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