7 Essential Traits of Leaders

With an historic presidential election behind us, the topic of leadership in America and in our communities has become a front burner discussion. Here’s a few thoughts on what we think are essential attributes for leaders at any level of government, business, non-profits and academia.

7 Essential Attributes: All Seven Are Necessary for Success
“People would rather follow a leader who is always real versus a leader who is always right. Don’t try to be a perfect leader, just work on being an authentic one.” –Brad Lomenick


Integrity is like the foundation of a house. It’s not the first thing you notice, yet without it, the house won’t stand and all the fancy amenities won’t matter.

So what is integrity? It is saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It’s keeping promises, its resisting temptation to be corrupted and it means telling the truth. But it also means a lot more than just telling the truth. It means not being silent when you see something wrong. It means being able to hold yourself and others accountable and it means always acting ethically.

Quote: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” –Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson.


Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is experiencing or feeling. It means an ability to tune into others, to listen and to understand. Leaders need to be able to connect to people. They need to be able to probe beneath the surface, to sense conflict before it erupts and nip it in the bud and they need to be able to sense the mood in a room and adjust their communication accordingly.
Quote: “Leadership boils down to strong relationships. Before I can be an effective leader I have to know the players, they have to get to know me and we have to trust and know each other.” – Coach K. of Duke.

Emotional Intelligence
Leaders need to understand their blind spots and weaknesses as much as their strengths. They need to evolve and adapt to new challenges. They need to work well with diverse personalities.

Quote: “Until you know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed.” –Warren Bennis.


Every good leader has vision. Leaders imagine a better future. Visionaries understand that leading is a job to do not a job to have. They are transformational leaders, with a clear vision of a brighter tomorrow. They are able to think long term and focus beyond the daily grind.
Visionary leaders inspire. They are optimistic and they never lose focus.

Quote: “Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.” – George Lucas.


Good judgment is essential for effective leadership. Good judgment means good decision making. In leadership positions, you will often have to make dozens of decisions on a regular basis. Sometimes you will be given time and information; sometimes you will have to make quick decisions with little information. As a leader, you can’t afford to be indecisive. You have to answer the call.

Three tips for developing good judgment and making good decisions.
1.Zero in on what’s important
2.See the whole chessboard
3.Take decisive action.

Quote: “Mistakes are not the ‘spice’ of life. Mistakes are life. Mistakes are not to be tolerated. They are to be encouraged.” –Tom Peters

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. If you want to lead, conflict is inevitable. Leadership means being on the front lines of conflict. It means having the courage to take a stand and know that you will make some people angry. You will make friends and you will lose friends. In leadership positions: you will be tested every day.

Quote: “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” -— Eddie Rickenbacker World War I hero


Passion is the drive to achieve, to make a difference, to put a dent in the universe. Without passion, without drive, you cannot be an effective leader. You have to wake up every day driven to learn, achieve, master and move toward your goals and vision. Passion drives progress.

Quote: “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” -— Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch

No Way to Run a Railroad

I learned a new word this weekend: kakistocracy.
It’s a Greek word and I saw it in Peggy Noonan’s weekly Wall Street Journal column which covered this very strange election season we are stuck (trapped?) in.
The word means government by the worst persons, the least qualified and or the most unprincipled.
Noonan concluded that we are on our way there. I would take it one step further. I think we are there.
Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t standouts in office at every level of government or bright stars on the horizon but let’s face it Congress stinks and many state and local elected officials are lacking.
Inevitably elected officials are judged on results but style counts too.

Maya Angelou may have said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Yes indeed.
It’s hard to get results with a bad style and if your all hat and no cowboy (style but no results) you’ll also fall short.
But one thing is certain, public service is a job to do, not to have. And too few people are willing to take votes that they know to be right because they fear losing their next election. The best elected officials have to be willing to lose if it means doing the right thing. You have to be willing to put it on the line.

The job of an elected official is not an easy one. I’ve only got direct experience on the local level, but I’ve observed state and federal officials and I can comfortably say the jobs are complex.
On the local level, you have to understand municipal finance and taxation, you need to be cognizant of public safety, urban planning, architecture, mobility, labor unions, economic development, ethics, education, social issues, health issues, race relations, the importance of culture and the nuances of your local economy to name but a few. Hopefully, you’ll also value the importance of citizen engagement, the need to attract talent, encourage economic growth and how to position your city in the regional, state and yes national and even international conversation.
On the state and national levels, the list goes on.
So if you are going to do the job, you have to be willing to work hard, do your homework and show up because there are endless demands on your time.
But perhaps the most important skill is leadership.

Why? Because your success of failure will ultimately depend on your ability to lead, your emotional intelligence, your ability to communicate and connect and how you handle the stuff that’s inevitably going to be thrown at you that you don’t expect.
Success depends on your soft skills, how you navigate the nuances and most perhaps importantly how you are able to communicate and connect with the communities or constituencies you serve.
And the operative word here is serve. You are elected to serve the people, not to indulge your personal preferences or to have others serve you. Sounds simple, but take some time to study how issues are handled and you’ll often find a deficit of leadership. And if issues remain unresolved a lot of times it’s because elected officials are unwilling or unable to compromise, unwilling to listen or cling to their personal preferences at the expense of the community.
We wouldn’t be talking about kakistocracy if we were attracting stellar leaders to politics.
When was the last time you couldn’t choose in a political race because there were too many good choices?
Wouldn’t it be nice if elections were like visiting your favorite restaurant where there were so many good options you couldn’t go wrong?
Can’t hurt to dream…

But at some point in time, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll fix what prevents our most capable leaders from running for office. Until then, we will have to content ourselves with too often having to choose between the lesser of two evils. And our Democracy, our communities and our country is too important for that to continue.

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

Last Saturday, we attended a wonderful event honoring Old School Square’s Joe Gillie on his retirement after 25 years of service to Delray.
It was a fun evening, full of love, joy and warmth. The kind of night that makes you realize The Beatles were right when they sang: “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”
Joe loved Old School Square and he loved Delray Beach. And in return, that love was returned by a group of people who also devoted a great many years of their lives to creating community—this community.
The feel of the evening was nothing short of magic. Everywhere you turned, you saw a local icon.
There was Linda Hunter, the legendary children’s librarian who has taught generation of Delray kids to love books and stories. There was Tom Lynch, one of Delray’s truly great mayors chatting with Tom McMurrian of Ocean Properties, a company that has helped put Delray on the map with its investments. I got to chat with Evelyn Dobson who has quietly changed lives for a decade at our Community Land Trust.
We saw Old School Square Chair Bill Branning, who has been a leader on our CRA and whose company built our library, the Milagro Center and the entertainment pavilion enjoyed by thousands every weekend.
The event attracted former CRA Chair Howard Ellingsworth, a local CPA who has given countless hours to preserving Delray’s history while also growing the community. Bob Currie was there too. He has been practicing architecture in Delray for 45 years and has left a stamp on downtown, Pineapple Grove, Old School Square, the library and more.
It was great to see our former Assistant City Manager Bob Barcinski, happily retired but still pitching in with this weekend’s Sister Cities Golf Tournament.
And of course, Frances Bourque who started it all, with a vision for Old School Square that brilliantly encapsulated the city’s past, present and future.
It was also heartening to see new faces as well. Connor Lynch, Tom’s son, who runs a large business in Delray, but finds time to serve on a slew of community boards while helping young entrepreneurs; Ryan Boylston who is so busy it’s exhausting to watch and Terra Spero, who was just recognized for her entrepreneurial talents by the Delray Chamber.
There was a magical feeling in the room as these people and many, many more gathered to thank Joe.
It’s not easy following someone like Joe, who has a larger than life aura. But this transition to new leadership seems to be a model for how to do it well. Rob Steele, the new CEO, is a smart, sensitive and seasoned executive who has welcomed Joe’s input and insight while taking the reins. Along with Artistic Director Matthew Farmer and COO Karen Richards, it seems that the organization will make a smooth transition; embracing the past while introducing new ideas.
After the event—not wanting to let go of that old Delray feeling—a bunch of us went to Da Da for a late night dinner. While walking to the restaurant with a friend, we talked about that intangible feeling that has made Delray Beach so special.
To be honest, that feeling is in peril. And in my mind, that’s worth a conversation and a lot of introspection.
Culture in communities is everything. In this case, we’re not talking about art, music and festivals, although that’s important too. We are talking about what it feels like to live here. Is this a supportive community? Do we respect each other? Are we inclusive of people and ideas? Do we put the community’s interests above egos and personal agendas? Are we nice to each other?
When Joe and Frances and many of the others mentioned above got started in Delray, we were a vastly different place; a start-up so to speak.
Start-ups are nimble, fun, exhausting, exciting and inspiring. Some crash and burn and others soar. Delray soared, probably beyond most of our imaginations.
So while walking on Swinton my friend asked whether it was possible to still maintain that warmth and excitement in a city that has grown larger and arguably more sophisticated.
It’s a question I’ve been thinking about for a long time now. And I lean toward yes—I believe it’s possible. In many ways, I think it’s imperative.
See the size of buildings never got me wound up—whether they are 48 feet or 54 feet—few can tell even if they are experts.
But the intangible feeling of community is what we should be focused on. And we’re not. We are not.
We’re too quick to condemn. Too quick to write off; too quick to label and too quick to pile on when we disagree.
A community that works is grateful, loving, supportive, respectful and takes pride in the past, present and future; especially if your past, present and future is as rich as Delray’s.
There’s a nagging feeling that we’re not these days. That we have sprung loose from those very important moorings. So every week, we experience symptoms of that condition: we blame the CRA for—take your pick: being too successful, having too much money, spending too much, spending too little, being out of touch etc. etc.
We criticize our library for not being all it can be and forget to give credit for what it is; we critique festivals, criticize city staff, wring our hands about traffic and accomplish little.
That doesn’t mean accountability isn’t important or that our library, CRA or any other entity, group or project is perfect and can’t be better. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about growth and development or traffic. But the conversation has to transcend our own personal drive times and has to consider our financial future and the opportunities we are creating for future generations.
The people in the room last weekend thanking Joe Gillie for 25 years of leadership are pacesetters. They built a heck of a start-up. If cities were start-ups, we’d be Facebook, Apple or Google, a billion dollar plus unicorn.
Yes I’m proud of what’s been built. Is it perfect? Not on your life. Is it done? No way.
Is Delray Beach everybody’s cup of tea? Nope. Some people prefer Myspace to Facebook. But not many.
So to those saying the town has been ruined; I disagree. It’s been saved and it’s terrific. Not perfect, but still pretty terrific. Sorry, we have nothing to apologize for and a lot to be proud of. To those who are concerned by change, I agree—to point.
But let’s talk about it intelligently and stop demonizing developers—some are pretty bad and others are damn good. The opposite of development is not no development, its better development. And change-well that’s inevitable.
We have a lot of work to do.
We can start with culture. Let’s build a place where it’s safe to disagree and safe to innovate.