Why Crozet: Terry Newell Examines Responsibility, Leadership, Ethics in Public Service

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Terry Newell writes and lectures on the importance of responsibility in leadership. Submitted photos.

It’s important, where we live and why. For almost two years, the Crozet Gazette has been examining the features that make our area a good place to live, and many of you have mentioned location as a significant contributor to quality of life. A mostly moderate climate and mountain views surround us here, it’s true, but you’ve also pointed out the historical, cultural, and logistical advantages of our location. Among them is our proximity to the city of Charlottesville, an advantage that helps populate our area with accomplished people, offers jobs to our citizens, and adds to the cultural opportunities open to all of us.

Like many of us, Terry Newell landed in Crozet because of a couple of connections with Charlottesville. There were family medical needs that included surgery at U.Va. “I’ve always been a history buff,” Newell said, “and I loved the mountains, so I fell in love with the area right away.” Later, he assumed a position as Dean of Faculty at the Leadership for a Democratic Society program at the Federal Executive Institute, a Charlottesville residential school offering training to advanced public servants. Newell lived for a while in Earlysville and, when it came time to downsize, moved to Crozet. “I liked the walkability and the community spirit here,” he said. 

Newell co-edited The Trusted Leader, his first book, examining how to build relationships that allow government to work. A second book, Statesmanship, Character, and Leadership in America, charts a path from leadership to statesmanship. 

A third book, To Serve with Honor: Doing the Right Thing in Government, focuses on ethical behavior both in public service and and as a foundation for organizations.

Michael Stahl is the author of The Promise of Public Service: Ideas and Examples for Effective Service, to be released mid-2022. He also has a deep interest in public service and chose one of Newell’s books for a class on public leadership he’s co-teaching later this fall. He explains why: “Newell’s books present examples and case studies of leaders rising to the challenges of their time, elevating their performance to become statesmen through their contribution to the public good. Terry’s writings speak to those of us who spent our careers serving the public, providing useful examples of those who excelled and who we can hope to emulate.”

When Newell stepped down from his leadership position at the Institute––he’s still an adjunct there––he didn’t stop exploring the qualities of effective and responsible leadership. “My sense is that in the era of social media we tend to look for charisma in our leaders; or judge them by how many followers they have,” Newell said. “But there are far more important qualities. There has to be an ethical dimension to leadership.” 

In addition to his books, Newell founded his own firm, Leadership for a Responsible Society, and has built a website and blog, thinkanew.org, where he consistently asks questions that connect today’s issues with historical precedents, and reframes trending questions in ways more likely to produce helpful answers. The blog’s title comes from Abraham Lincoln’s theory that decisions in difficult times are often not served by the “dogmas of the quiet past.” The stormy present, Lincoln said, demands that we “think anew and act anew.”

In August, Newell posted several times on thinkanew.org. He examined the sometimes capricious ways in which people make serious choices. He continued his series, “Profiles in Character,” with the story of Henry Bingham, a state department employee who defied government authority used ingenious methods to save Jewish and refugee lives as France fell to the Germans in World War II, often at the risk of his safety as well as his job.

Another very timely post chronicles the faulty thinking leading to protracted conflict and failure in Afghanistan.  “As with ‘who lost Vietnam?’ and ‘who lost Iraq?’” he wrote, “the search for blame—and political gain—substitutes a useless ‘who?’ for the far more important ‘why?’”

Terry Newell came to Crozet after a long association with the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville.

It’s not just public leaders Newell hopes to reach in his travels, lectures and writing, he said. He wants to encourage all of us to think more carefully about what our society needs to reach the vision laid out in our founding documents. 

Newell has watched the growing intensity of the divided political motivations that obscure and confuse the real issues of the day. He identified our reluctance to discuss points of view outside our own as one of our major current problems, one that we need to address. “We’re tearing ourselves apart in dangerous ways,” he said. “We have to think carefully, be open to other views, and stop treating people badly because they disagree.”

Adding to the lack of civility, he said, is the tendency to choose news sources or even news stories simply because they fit with our opinions. “When you see something online, slow yourself down,” he said. “Don’t just think, ‘isn’t this awful,’ and retweet or share. Check other sources. Learn to think responsibly.”

Find Terry Newell’s writing at www.thinkanew.org. 

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