Here’s What We Think…

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In a little more than a month, voters will go to the polls in Delray Beach and choose two commissioners. At stake, is the balance of power in Delray Beach, because the current commission seems hopelessly divided with Mayor Glickstein and Vice Mayor Jordana Jarjura on one side and Commissioners Shelly Petrolia and Mitch Katz on the other side.
Long time watchers of local politics say the divide seems more personality driven than ideological, although policy differences exist; more a fight for power than a fight over ideas and a vision for Delray.
While the politics are complex, we thought it may be helpful to inform readers about what they might want to look for over the next month before they head to the polls.
We want to present a look at leadership, particularly what we feel it takes to succeed on the local level.
We believe we bring a unique perspective to this endeavor since our small team at the newspaper consists of people who have been involved in local politics for over 30 years. One has served as an elected official, two have covered local government and elections as journalists, one teaches political science at FAU and has worked as a digital consultant on local campaigns and four have been involved in a vast array of city boards, non-profits and local campaigns.
The following is our take:
There can be no success in a city without good, strong leadership. It really is as simple and as complicated as that.
Good leadership can create value, leverage opportunity, inspire action and achieve results far beyond our wildest imaginations. Consequently, bad leadership or a lack of leadership can mean death to a city.
Sometimes people mistake leadership for management; they are very different.
Most small and midsize cities are council-manager forms of government, with “weak” mayors and city councils setting priorities and policy for professional city managers and their staffs to execute.
While this system has flaws, it can work, provided that elected officials exert strong leadership and insist on accountability.
Still, there is a clear distinction between leadership and management.
Leadership makes the hard decisions, sets priorities, identifies opportunities, has the courage to confront challenges and the will to follow through when the going gets rough—and the going always gets rough.
In observing leaders, we have come to the conclusion that there are three types of elected officials. There are those who feel being elected is a job to “have” and there are those who feel it is a job to “do”. And then there is the “hero” leader whose ego and personality dictates that they control every last detail of city government. Building consensus is an annoyance, compromise is a no-no and micromanaging becomes prevalent. A hero also creates friction: i.e. there can only be one king or queen and the rest of the commission becomes an impediment and or a threat to their supremacy.
There is a fundamental difference between those who think it’s a job to have rather than do; the former are content to be introduced at every chicken dinner in town, they are essentially in the role to cut ribbons and do whatever it takes to stay there. They are what we refer to as “transactional” officials, in office to cut deals (but only with friends), punish enemies and survive. They tend to shun the difficult issues, defer all the tough calls and spend their terms playing dodge ball.
The leaders who make a difference are “transformational” –they seek office to pursue a vision, are willing to take risks and have a healthy –albeit not self-serving–desire to leave a legacy.
Truth be told, even transformational leaders have to make their fair share of transactions—that’s politics–but you’d be amazed at how many elected officials think the endgame is to be re-elected and nothing else.
Transformational leaders are rarities and therefore should be appreciated and strongly supported. If you happen to be fortunate to get one or more on the commission, efforts should be made to surround that person with the resources he or she needs to do what needs to be done to move your community forward.
In most cases, great leadership can overcome weak or ineffectual management—although the experience is sure to inhibit the amount of progress and create frustration for the elected leader. Consequently, the ideal is to marry great leadership with great management, but unfortunately, too few communities hold their government officials accountable. The worst case scenario is a combination of bad leadership and incompetent management; that is simply impossible to overcome.
Part of the problem with finding and nurturing good leadership is that too few people know what it looks like.
Nobody is opposed to great leadership but few communities take the time to actually discuss what it takes to bring it about. Often we fail to monitor leaders and hold them accountable for performance and for promises. Too often, we “suffer” poor leadership and decide to just “wait them out”.
One of the best books on leadership we’ve seen discusses this problem in-depth. In “Why We Are So Bad at Picking Good Leaders” the authors outline seven character traits that great leaders possess.
The rub, so to speak, is that if leaders are missing any of the seven traits, they are doomed to either come up short or fail.
The traits are: integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, courage and judgment.
That’s as good a list of traits as any we’ve seen.
The foundation of all leadership is integrity. We’ve all seen brilliant people loaded with talent and gifts crash and burn because they lack integrity. Similarly, it is hard to lead successfully if you don’t have a burning passion for your city. That flame may burn bright or it may simmer, but it better burn.
When it comes to leading a city, courage also plays a big role.
The beauty of local government is that it is small enough to put your arms around but large enough to be interesting.
In most cities, a simple majority gets it done. In larger governments, ideas have to survive committees, legislative review and executive scrutiny and therefore rarely come through the other end intact.
In local government, if you have an idea and a simple majority on the comission agrees, things can change pretty rapidly. But the personal nature of local government also means you have to have a fair amount of courage to pursue meaningful progress.
Unlike, state legislatures which vote out of the sight of most of their constituents, in local government you vote down the street from where you live. Consequently, there is no place to hide. That’s a good thing.
Emotional intelligence and empathy go hand in hand. To be an effective leader you need to be able to empathize with the people who are impacted by your decisions. You also have to have the emotional intelligence to be able to read your audience and those who work alongside you. Different people respond to different styles—as a leader it is up to you to discern the most effective way of reaching and connecting with people. And you have to want to connect. Heroes don’t feel the need; after all why consult with the public if you’re the smartest person in the room. If they do reach out, it’s typically a check the box type exercise, lacking any genuine desire to solicit input.
The best elected officials are servant-leaders and they remember that.
Every. Single. Day.
Others get some power and feel that their constituents are there to serve them. Policy becomes solely about their preferences, likes and dislikes.
Looked at rationally, how many businesses would entrust the CEO position and their entire slate of directors to the randomness of an election in which too often the choice is between lesser evils?
Given that we embrace democracy, perhaps we should work on building a culture in which we actually take the process of selecting candidates seriously.
We hope this list of traits encourages you to ask deeper questions of those who seek to lead our city.
Have they served on city boards? Are they involved with local non-profits? Have they participated in community debates or did they just show up out of nowhere? Have they had success in other aspects of their life? If they’ve been involved on boards did they have a good attendance record? Did they do their homework and participate or did they simply get on a board and waste space? Do they have a good temperament or are they bullies?
Local government is important and may impact our lives greater than any other type of government, affecting taxes, property values, quality of life and essential services. Good leadership matters.
Great leadership creates opportunities and builds immense value. Bad leadership or lack of leadership is a killer. We urge you to vote accordingly.