Tipping the leader meter, everyday heroes abound

The hero we need: High School senior and Town of West Babylon Fire Department member Michael Lindner, an official Babylon Hero.
By DAVID CHAUVIN //

True leaders tend to reveal themselves in times of crisis. (Fraudulent leaders tend to be exposed as well – a story for another column, but see our federal government for proof.)

Often during this trying episode, I think about the qualities I admire in leaders and, as we all do, I try to learn from them, and grow as a leader myself. Luckily, being a New Yorker, I don’t have look far for inspiring stories of leadership.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has certainly received his accolades for his handling of this crisis, and for good reason. His measured, factual and straight-forward daily addresses have warned us of the severity of this pandemic while also reassuring us that New Yorkers will get through it together, as we always do.

Many healthcare administrators are also receiving praise, including Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling, who displayed foresight, preparation and resolve when he urged the federal government to allow manual tests for COVID-19 in Northwell’s regional laboratories before there were even 200 U.S. cases.

But we needn’t look only to high-level elected officials and CEOs to find stories of quality leadership. In New York City and on Long Island, we are surrounded by people exemplifying what it means to be a leader.

There are, of course, the men and women of healthcare, who put themselves on the front lines and save lives every day. The Town of Babylon has been spotlighting them on its Facebook page, with the town’s Babylon Heroes series: Women like Carolina Ordonez, mother of three who works grueling 12-hour shifts as a nurse and then quarantines herself from her beloved family, and Barbara Regan, a Southside Hospital nurse who contracted the virus, fought it for three full weeks, recovered and returned immediately to work.

David Chauvin: Leading man.

There are so many of these stories, all displaying the most fundamental trait of a true leader: selflessness. Small business owners all over Long Island and NYC are also emerging as inspiring leaders, by virtue of both their selflessness and their optimism.

I’m inspired by small business owners like Gina Cantone-Centauro and Vincent Centauro of Franklin Square, owners of the home-remodeling business Truly Unique Designs. They stumbled onto nearly 300 critically needed N95 masks in their garage and – though the masks are important to their business – quickly donated them to regional healthcare providers. The couple even reached out on social media to solicit more masks, targeting 1,000 donations.

I’m also moved by the story of Gaby Armour, who founded G Free New York, a website spotlighting gluten-free restaurants and recipes in NYC. Armour celebrated her 50th birthday last week, and rather than bemoan the bad luck of having to celebrate under quarantine, she encouraged friends and family to donate to help feed frontline healthcare workers at regional hospitals. She was hopeful and proactive and brightened the days of people who’ve been risking their lives for weeks.

All of these small-business owners demonstrated further important traits of good leadership: resourcefulness and resolve. But you don’t have to be an adult to be a leader; at schools all over New York, people not yet old enough to drive are showing us grown-ups what it means to be leaders and local heroes.

At Pasadena Elementary School in the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District, fourth-grader Rebecca Wallenstein recently started making masks for healthcare providers and nursing home residents. She calls it the “I Love Eva Law,” fashioned after Albany’s “Matilda’s Law” and her grandmother.

Despite being a mere elementary-school student, Rebecca already displays another critical leadership trait: ingenuity.

Selflessness, resolve, ingenuity – these are the leadership qualities that inspire me. The good news is that we are all capable of these traits, and each can be applied no matter your line of work, whether you’re working at home or still heading in.

We may be encouraged to isolate from our friends, families and support groups, but we are very much in this together. We each need to do our part – to be leaders in our own circles. Only by doing so can we get through this difficult national moment.

David Chauvin is executive vice president of Great Neck-based public relations firm ZE Creative Communications. and former director of communications for the Town of North Hempstead, among several government positions.