Posted on July 26, 2010 at 11:21 AM
It is election campaign time in my city. You’ve all been there, you know how it works. Each person claims they’ll be the best leader, that they have the “right stuff” to lead their area/ward/city.
Last week I was able to talk to three candidates covering three different areas of the city. It was an interesting conversation as they were not running against one another so political postering was minimal. None of them actually asked me what I as a constituent wanted from them but they got my opinion anyway! Hey, crazy to turn down an opportunity like that!
Now admittedly my city’s current council is borderline dysfunctional and long past any chance of coming together as a group of leaders to move our city forward. I hope the next crew gets it right.
I realized that what I was asking of them was somewhat different than what I ask – and usually write about – when thinking of a single leader.
- Hold on tight to a holistic view. While individual leaders must be strong, have vision, persistence and confidence, rarely in organizations do they work alone. They must be able to collaborate with their peers to ensure the whole organization moves forward. Sometimes that means not getting what they want for their area because the needs of another area are greater. It also means they cannot and must not try to please everyone all the time. I want my leader to make tough decisions - even those I will not always agree with - when they see a bigger picture than I do. Of course, they also have an obligation to help me see the bigger picture. No organization thrives if one area is optimized at the expense of the rest.
- Have a decision making approach and use it consistently. That same group of candidates was excitedly talking about gathering a group of candidates across the city wards together and finding 5 things they agree on to show voters that they can get along. I hope they do that as it is a good start; but it is not enough. Leaders coming together with other leaders to make decisions will simply not agree all the time. So in order to collaborate they actually have to work through a decision making process that they can use consistently. And slinging verbal mud or real pencils at each other does not qualify as a decision making process!
- Be an effective team. In municipal politics and in organizations leaders are both the individual leaders of their area and members of the team that leads the larger organization. Even a city mayor has only one vote on the team. Being a member of team requires that sometimes a leader becomes a follower. I want my leader to know about team dynamics and use that knowledge to make themselves and others on the team more effective. If the team needs help in working better as a team, I expect my leaders to get the help they need.
- Have a long-term view. Current issues and the decisions around them often have long-term impacts. I fully expect my leaders to look beyond the current term, beyond the next election, beyond the next quarterly or annual reporting period and to make decisions for the long-term health of the organization. True fearlessness in a leader is making those decisions that might not have the best outcome for them personally. Leaders do need to have a good sense of self preservation but they also need to be able to look beyond themselves when it really matters.
- Get things done. So, the whole point of having a holistic view, being a team, thinking about the long-term and having a decision making process is so that good decisions get made and things get done. It is action-oriented not study and delay oriented. Governments and organizations are buried in studies. Too often they fall into analysis-paralysis. There is no such thing as risk-free decision making.
Perhaps one of the hardest things a leader must do is work with other leaders. But without that ability our governments and our organizations will fail to achieve.
What would you add to this list?