Ed Wojcicki, Lifelong Learner of Leadership and Writing

Ed Wojcicki

Ed Wojcicki likes to think of himself as one of what Studs Terkel* called, the “et ceteras of history

“They’re the billions of people who won’t even have their 15 minutes of fame…yet we have our time and place in history and what we do matters,” said Wojcicki. “They’re good parents. They’re good citizens. They’re kind at the grocery story.”

Wojcicki, 62, calls it “celebrating the ordinary,” and proudly declares, “and I’m one of them.” He has been thinking and writing about “ordinary people” for 20 years. “I’ve written 100’s of 1000’s of words about this. There’s a book burning inside of me,” said Wojcicki. (That would be his third book, including A Crisis of Hope in the Modern World, that came out in 1991, and the more recent Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello, written with former Illinois State Senator and Senate President Philip J. Rock.)

But, before he gets to the book, Wojcicki, who considers this his third career, has more at hand as Executive Director (since 2014) of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (ILACP). “My first two careers were in journalism and higher education, with some overlap between the two,” said Wojcicki. A long time writer, he completed a Masters in Political Science at age 47, which he credits for paving the way to the Associate Chancellor position at University of Illinois Springfield. As for taking the helm of ILACP, “Association management was new to me but I love my job and find that I get to use the management talents that I have honed for three decades.”

“Neither of these–the leadership and the writing–is a post-50 thing for me,” said Wojcicki. “But I’m learning new ways to do both things way past the age of 50, and I am committed to continue learning a lot more about both.”

The ILACP has 1300 members from 450 organizations across Illinois. Members are Chiefs of Police, Deputy Chiefs and some retired Chiefs in Illinois. “Professional development, lobbying in the state capitol in Springfield and we have to communicate the message of law enforcement,” said Wojcicki about the core mission of the organization.

Wojcicki took the helm of ILACP at a time when the focus on law enforcement became front and center. “Between interviewing and getting the job, Ferguson happened,” said Wojcicki. “Law enforcement is under siege,” he said, while acknowledging the need for change. “I believe that most chiefs and most law enforcement officers are performing at a very high level, and I think it’s up to our association to remind people of that and to encourage them for their monumental bravery and for keeping our communities safe.

“The police are a force for the public good, and now I’m able to use all the management and leadership lessons I’ve learned and help the law enforcement profession – raise its visibility in a positive way.”

Wojcicki is also leveraging his long-time relationship building and networking skills. ILACP has been meeting with the state level Illinois NAACP to plan together, and will soon be announcing a joint initiative. “Police chiefs are still a predominantly white, and male, group, but we are working on recruitment and engaging with the community. There are examples of Police Chiefs going door to door in their communities, asking, ‘how are we doing?’ ‘How can we better serve?’”

Wojcicki says his passion for the Police Chiefs “is to apply what I’ve learned about leadership to helping this organization achieve its mission of advancing the professional development of law enforcement leaders.”

On Social Media

Wojcicki is a big fan of LinkedIn, and uses it to network and learn more about people with whom his is working and interacting and to build relationships. He also loves, loves, to write, but admits he breaks the “cardinal rule of blogging: a regular schedule…whether it’s weekly, monthly, bi-weekly…it has to be regular to build a following.”

ILACP is active on Facebook and Twitter, thanks to the Board’s Public Relations Committee that he suggested they create. “We are active on Twitter, where we can engage with politicians and journalists and push for legislation. On Facebook law enforcement officers and people out in communities are sharing stories of connection.”

But as a long time writer and editor, he appreciates the value in writing and rewriting. As someone who regularly journals, he also knows some writing is meant to be personal, just for the writer. “Facebook is not a good place to journal. That should be private, but some people don’t get that, or they learn the hard way.”

On Aging

 

When asked how he feels about aging, Wojcicki responds that it’s “something I say about just about everything: ‘It’s just the way it is.’”

“One of my strengths is that I’m patient and one of my weaknesses is that I’m patient. I get more patient as I get older, and that mostly works well for me. I’m patient with imperfections, patient with mistakes, patient with unreasonable and angry people. “Everything Belongs” is one of my favorite book titles, by Richard Rohr, and for the most part I really believe that. Rohr says this is one of the dawnings of the second half of life.

Getting older increases my sense of history, the fact that I have a time and place in history, and I’ll just do my best. The older I get, the more I really understand that I have control over almost nothing, and the more I accept that, the more patient I become, and in fact the more tolerant I become.

And he writes. Writing is still Wojcicki’s passion. He has had thousands of articles published in newspapers and a few dozen in magazines, in addition to the two books. And while he doesn’t write as often for publication any more (and “I’m okay with that.”), he says “writers write. In journals I get to write whatever comes to my mind. There’s something magical about pencil to paper, or keys on a keyboard. Ideas just come.”

And back to the 100’s of 1000’s of words he’s written about “celebrating the ordinary…”if I live long enough that book is still burning inside of me.

“I see myself happily on the descent, in a positive way, such as watching my grandkids, rather than pursuing any big dreams any more. Meanwhile I continue to do this job and as I said, I love it.”

Author’s Addendum (related to good things to learn as you age)

After reading my own article, there were two things that seemed to me to be missing to capture the “real Ed,” but also as things that seemed to wonderful to feel as one ages.

One was a follow up from his comment about accepting that there will always be “detractors,” (see the “Post-50 video above) that there will always be people to criticize your work, thinking that they can do it better than you (aka “haters” on the Internet), and no longer letting them bother him. In fact, he adds, if there is no criticism the idea has probably been so watered down that it’s not worth pursuing. Here’s more:

Here’s one lesson that I’ve learned but it’s difficult to sustain: You have to be bold to get noticed a lot – I almost wrote “a little bit bold” but you can’t really be a little bit bold. And many of us are reluctant to be really bold because we fear push back or we fear alienating people.

I think we believe that with good communications we’re supposed to gain advocates and gain a bigger audience and a bigger reputation, and all of that is true, but it’s probably important to remember that really strong communications are going to generate criticism, and that has to be OK because if you have a “vanilla” message, trying not to offend anyone, you won’t have people criticizing you, but you won’t have much of an audience at all and either.”

At one point in talking about his satisfaction with his current life that comes with aging, Ed talked about changing dreams, like no longer being the young journalist who would get the scoop and uncover the Pulitzer prize winning story or aspirations to one day be governor. It begged the question for me–did your dreams comfortably evolve, or  do you have regrets that those things didn’t come true?

I don’t regret not going after or getting some bigger prize in life – like a more important job or a loftier title and a lot of money. And that’s OK, because I have learned that I am not what I do, what I own, or what others say about me.

By this age, I’ve seen enough people who have climbed the ladder, and now they’re not up there any more because they had their chance, and some did very well, by the way, but I’ve learned that nobody stays “up there” for very long and so it’s well worth remembering that many other things in life are more important and more lasting.

I do have some regrets. I’ve made some mistakes that I wish I had not made. I’ve said things to people over the years that I should not have said. More times than I probably know, I’ve gotten sarcastic or in a hurry and I responded to people abruptly or rudely. That still bothers me.

Mostly I think of myself as  just one of the et ceteras who has a responsibility to be of service to my family and my community, and not to clutter up the alley with garbage, because it’s important to be a good citizen.

To be kind, thoughtful, and not grumpy. Nobody likes to be around a grump. Although I’ve had career disappointments, nearly all of my regrets are not related to career, but to personal interactions with others.