Here’s What We Think…

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By: Jeff Perlman Editor-in-Chief

Seth Godin has a saying…hardware is sexy, but it’s software that matters.

Seth is a best-selling author and considered one of the top marketing minds in the world.

So while he might have been referring to products when he talked about the importance of software…we think you can also apply the sentiment to cities and community building.

Hardware can refer to buildings and software can be a stand in for the soft stuff like creating a sense of place and nurturing a feeling of community.

Last week, I had a chance to share a few things about public leadership that I have learned over 30 years with a talented group of young professionals enrolled in the Urban Land Institute’s Public Leadership Institute. ULI is a global organization dedicated to the responsible use of land. I had a chance to meet with 40 or so up and comers at Port Everglades to discuss the challenges and opportunities available in cities today and tomorrow. I tried to instill in these young leaders that they have a responsibility as stewards to leave their communities better off than they found them. There is a lot of work for them and all of us to do.

I think cities rise or fall as a direct result of leadership. I think it’s the software of cities that matter more than anything else.

Don’t misunderstand me, leadership has a lot to do with getting the hardware right…we need the buildings and the projects. We need the investment, the tax base and the jobs.

But the best places get the software right…they have a certain feel about them. You can sense the momentum, you want to be involved…they make you want to stay and leave a positive mark.

Leadership is so important, but we really don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it. Oh, we say we value leadership and we want it and that it’s important. But we really don’t spend a lot of time creating, nurturing, supporting and training leaders. There are exceptions: ULI is investing in the next generation of leaders and so is Leadership Florida. There are others, but we need even more.

As a result of the leadership deficit– in cities— we leave a lot to chance. Whoever, shows up gets to run the place. And unless you get lucky and a group of visionaries show up you run the risk of placing your present and your future in the hands of those who might not be good at the software or the hardware. That’s a real problem.

Because cities thrive if leaders show up and commit to a place. And they fail if the wrong people grab the reigns. It’s just that simple and there are examples all over South Florida on both sides of that ledger.

Now I am not talking solely about mayors and commissioners—although surely the occupants of those seats are important to achieving any kind of sustained progress.

But I do not believe in waiting for a savior to show up….that may feel good for a little while, but eventually your visionary mayor moves on or terms out. You have to develop the software to create an enduring  culture of leadership in order for success to take root and to last.

So when I say leadership I am thinking broadly…we all have a role to play. The public sector—elected officials and staff, the business community, non-profits, academia, the clergy and the neighborhoods all need to show up and where possible work together on a common vision.

So how do we do that….How do we work together on a common vision?

First I’ll tell you what you don’t do…don’t get stuck and don’t allow your community to get caught in a winner take all contest.

We fixate today on what we disagree on….we see it in Washington and in Tallahassee, but we also see it on the grass roots community level.

We’ve created a giant zero sum game, where I have to lose if  you are to win….that’s not a formula for success or progress. It is a recipe for gridlock and progress that quickly gets reversed when the “other side” seizes power.

I think leadership focuses on what we can agree on.

There is so much noise and so much negativity in the world today…I believe that people are hungry for something to believe in.

We need to build communities that aspire. And as leaders it’s our responsibility to create a culture in our communities that enables aspiration.

We want to build places where people are excited about their present and thrilled about their future potential. We need to champion projects and initiatives that further these goals…and deliver for not only the direct beneficiaries but the broader community as well.

The best economic development is momentum and software that drives progress. Get that part right and it enables you to overcome inertia or any challenge that is thrown your way—be it hurricanes or crime or drugs or nasty characters who get up at meetings and throw bricks. It even inoculates you against the trolls on social media, many of whom sit back in judgment but few who actually roll up their sleeves and try themselves.

Nothing great can be accomplished without enthusiasm, calculated risk and a large dose of inspiration.

Leaders either fill the reservoir with hope or drain it with negativity.

There’s another saying that I just love and it’s this: “There is a difference between leadership and ambition. Leaders have the courage to be unpopular with those that disagree with them. The ambitious want to befriend as many people as possible.”

We need more leadership and less ambition.

But we also need more aspiration and more emotional intelligence. Hardware is important. Hardware is indeed sexy. But software is heart. Software is love. Software is empathy and it’s gratitude.

Software is what matters.