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

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

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.

Vision

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.

Judgment

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
Courage

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

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

Strategy+Team=Success

I’m a big fan of Fred Wilson.
He’s a highly regarded NYC based venture capitalist who writes a fascinating blog on investing and technology.
This time of year, he’s spending his time in board meetings planning for the upcoming year.
When you are involved in a successful enterprise, board meetings are exciting. It’s fun to talk about growth and expanding market share. But when you are in struggling enterprise, board meetings can be very challenging and often stressful.
Wilson believes the keys to success are having a strategy and building a winning team. Here’s what he has to say:
“You have to get the strategy right and you have to have a team that can execute it without your day to day involvement. The CEOs that I work with that are struggling are usually running into issues with their team and/or their strategy. And the CEOs that I work with that are doing great generally have gotten the strategy set and have built a strong executive team underneath them.
This sounds so simple. But it is not.
Most of the companies I work with didn’t really start out with a strategy. They started out with an idea that turned into a great product that found a fit with a market. And they jumped on that and used it to build a company. Most of them wake up at some point and realize that a single product in a single market is not a strategy and they need to come up with a plan to get a lot bigger and build a sustainable and defensible business. I like to think that this is one place where a good investor group can help. If we are doing our job, we push our portfolio companies to work on their long term strategy and refine it to the point where it makes sense and is executable. But an investor group cannot give a company a strategy. It has to come from the founder/CEO and a small group of senior leaders. The smaller the group that is working on strategy, the better. Strategy is not something that can be done by committee.
The second thing, building an executive team that can execute the plan without day to day involvement of the CEO, is even harder. Most of the companies I work with go through a lot of hiring mistakes on the way to building this team. Some hire too junior. Some hire too senior. Some hire bad cultural fits. Some hire people that are nothing but cultural fit. And an investor or investor group can help with this but I believe that founders/CEOs need to learn how to do this themselves and make these mistakes. The best thing an investor group can do is to help a founder/CEO to understand when they have the wrong person in the job. Or help them understand that more quickly.
These are both areas where experience is huge. The CEOs I work with who have done the job multiple times get these two things right much more quickly. But even they can take a year or two to get these right. First time CEOs often take three or four years to get these things right. But sticking with founders who are first time CEOs through this process is usually worth it because they have a connection to the initial vision and mission that a hired CEO has a hard time replicating. There is not a good rule of thumb on this issue (who should run the company). Facts and circumstances on the ground will generally determine how that should go.

My final point on this is that once you have the strategy and team locked down, you should step back and let the machine do its thing. I like to say that CEOs should do only three things; recruit and retain the team, build and evolve the long term strategy and communicate it effectively and broadly in the organization and externally, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. When those are the only things you are doing, you are doing the job right. Very few CEOs get to focus on only these three things all of the time. Things break and you have to fix them. But when the machine is working and you can step back and watch it hum, it is a thing of beauty.”
Amen.
This blog likes to focus on cities and there is a real parallel between what Wilson is talking about and building a successful community. And there are some differences.
First, strategy can be substituted for a community vision and while for business Wilson recommends a small group be involved in crafting strategy, in a city it helps if you have as many stakeholders involved as possible. It’s the job of elected leadership to prioritize, hone and drive the vision and it’s the job of city staff to implement in a timely and efficient manner.
But cities get in trouble when there is no strategy, vision or plan. And they get in trouble when egotistical leaders decide to keep their own counsel and cut themselves off from input or debate.
They also get in trouble when they decide to micromanage and delve into the day to day operations of the city. If you find that you are doing this, you need to stop. If you find that you need to do this because your staff can’t or won’t execute, you need to get new staff. But elected officials need to stay in their policymaking box (which is plenty big) and allow staff to do their jobs. Ideally, you should try to create a culture of experimentation and innovation not fear.
If staff can feel confident enough to think outside the box and solve problems legally, ethically and efficiently you will succeed. If they feel bullied, micromanaged and or afraid to make a mistake you have created a culture that will fail to solve problems or seize opportunities. Your best talent will flee, you will not be able to attract top tier talent and you will turn lemonade into a lemon.
I happen to believe in outcomes over process. That does not mean that process is not important or that you shouldn’t have a process. But it does mean that outcomes are more important— as long as you act legally, ethically and morally.
It shouldn’t take three weeks to type a basic building permit. It shouldn’t take a year to approve a mixed use development. It shouldn’t require an act of Congress or a deity to get a parking agreement and or a developer agreement. If it does, you got a problem.
Strategy and team; you need them both. One doesn’t work without the other. And if you are deficient with either or both, you have major problems and you cannot succeed.

Keepers of the Flame

Jan Gehl is an award winning Danish architect who has worked on high profile projects all over the world.
Recently, he visited the Harvard Design School to discuss the role of politics and leadership in driving improvement in cities.
In his experience, he believes “the personal factor is very strong in bringing about transformative urban changes”.
Gehl’s new book New City Spaces talks about nine cities that have really turned things around, and in nearly all of the cases, it started with some centrally placed person or torchbearer who had a vision. It might have been the mayor of Curitiba, the longstanding director of urban design in Melbourne, or the mayor in Strasbourg. In Copenhagen, the city architect, city engineer, and mayor worked together, and in Portland it was more or less the Greens winning the election in 1968 that brought significant change, according to Gehl.
“It (transformative changes) could come from the bottom or above, but very seldom did it grow out of the day-to-day administration of the cities. It was often a force from the outside, or a new officer or a new politician.”
Interesting and I have no doubt that Gehl is correct in his diagnosis of the cities he has studied.
But I would argue that another model—outside the hero mayor or architect narrative—is citizen driven planning or visioning. Delray used this transformational model effectively from the late 80s until the mid 2000s for plans relating to the downtown, neighborhoods, culture, education and parks.
It works.
In many cases, change is driven by a threat or by conditions that are so poor, they drive people to organize and push for reform. In Delray’s case, the threat was a plan by the Florida Department of Transportation to widen Atlantic Avenue to facilitate hurricane evacuation. While this may not be the best week to argue against that notion, it was widely believed that if FDOT was successful we would have lost our downtown forever. Instead of being a narrow, pedestrian friendly street promoting slow traffic, the avenue would have been a highway—good for evacuation bad for urbanism.
I’m hoping the new effort relating to the city’s update of its Comprehensive Plan is more like an old school visioning exercise than a top down exercise designed to check a box for the sake of optics because community visioning is critically important and so is the Comp Plan.
Gehl is correct when he notes that transformation rarely grows out of day- to -day administration.
Same goes for business.
When you’re leading or running a city or a business, you really have two considerations: the day to day and the future. You have to consider both or you are doomed to failure or disruption.
So yes when a citizen calls to complain about a tree branch you need to respond. But, you also should be thinking about your tree canopy and whether you have planned your open spaces well enough. Leadership requires taking care of the present and planning for the future.
In a council-manager form of government, in which the mayor’s position is supposed to be strictly policymaking and part-time (the part-time part is a fallacy, trust me), you can’t wait for a hero with a vision to come to rescue. It’s up to the citizens to take responsibility, but leadership is critical. The best leaders seek input, constantly engage, try their best to raise the level of conversation and once adopted become the chief evangelists and defenders of the vision.
And believe me; the vision will need defending because change is never easy nor universally accepted especially if your vision is ambitious and not boring or incremental.
Every city aspires to be a great place to live, work and play—but the devil as they say is in the details. Vibrancy requires activity and public spaces may need to be activated.
Change while often resisted is also inevitable. So you can count on your vision being challenged on a regular basis. The best leaders are guardians of the flame. If they resist the urge to cave when the critics emerge and trust in the people’s vision your vision will gain traction and soar. But if they capitulate—the vision will die and along with it any chance of meaningful change. Oh and you’ll lose the trust of citizens who helped to forge the vision and counted on you—the elected leader—to ensure it moves forward.
That’s a high price to pay.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Friendship has been on my mind lately.
Maybe it was a visit from a childhood friend or watching my stepson light up when he came home from college and reconnected with his best buddy—but the older I get the more I find myself treasuring the friends I have made over the years. I am so grateful for friends; the people you can count on year after year for fun, laughs, good conversation, advice and just plain hanging out. The best ones are there for you when you are up and when you’re down. They are real, sincere and sometimes painfully honest.
They give you the benefit of the doubt when you mess up—as we all do from time to time –and they are happy when you succeed; sad when you suffer a setback. As I approach yet another birthday I have been reflecting on the magical times in my life and they all revolve around family and friends. That’s not a profound discovery, but I also realize that I have had several very special eras of friendships and a few professional experiences that can only be described as magic (sorry, there’s no other word). And in talking to people I have come to understand that not everybody gets to have that in their life, either personally or professionally. So I feel a whole lot of gratitude for the magic and that’s what I will always look for in my work and relationships.
I’ve been blessed with several friends that I have had since early childhood. I have a core of guys who I have known since I was 6, 7 and 8 years old and I am very aware of how special and how rare that is.
We’ve kept it going through junior high cliques and high school crushes, college, first real jobs, marriages, kids and now middle age. We are spread throughout the country—California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, New Jersey and our native New York. We don’t see each other much, but we are in touch. And when we do get together for reunions or milestones we pick up where we left off.
Truth be told, the talk of glory days gone by is rare. We typically talk about our present day lives and our plans for the future, which shockingly now includes talk of retirement and yes mortality (in another 50 years or so).
To be able to share those conversations with guys who knew your 4th grade teacher, met your grandparents, went to your bar mitzvah and know who you took to the prom is nothing short of remarkable. Past embarrassments become the source of warm memories, like the time you pretended your car broke down just so you could linger at the local fast food joint and talk to the cute girl from your social studies class or the time when a friend painted a rock with the phrase “the search is over” (a cheesy 80s song by Survivor) only to have the object of this sure thing say she never wanted to see him again when she drove by and saw it.
We have gone through cancer—(parents and one of us), experienced marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, business ups and downs, births and deaths— together. We have also experienced a whole lot on our own. We have close friends that the others don’t know, experiences that we didn’t share and a whole life separate from each other. But we know that if something ever happened to any of us, we could reach out and find whatever help we needed within our circle. No questions asked. These are the brothers I never had.
I live in Delray Beach because of my friend Scott, who is one of the guys I’ve known for over 40 years. So blame him if you must. After we graduated high school, Scott went off to SUNY Oswego and I spent a year at Stony Brook University before joining him in a place that was so cold, snowy and windy that we didn’t thaw out until four years after graduation. So the prospects of warm weather made it an easy decision for me to seek a newspaper job in either Florida or California, where another guy from our circle was going to chiropractic school. The Florida offer came first and off I went to join Scott who was already here sitting by the pool.
Florida in the late 80s was an interesting place. I thought it was summer camp. Every morning we went for bagels with Scott’s dad Mickey and after work we played tennis, went to the pool and explored the area.
I was assigned to cover Delray and it was like discovering journalistic heaven: political bickering, horrific crime, City Hall intrigue and interesting people everywhere you turned. This place put the fun in dysfunction. But despite the myriad of serious problems there was a vision in place and a whole lot of aspiration and talent aligned to turn the city around. And I got to write about it and eventually participate.
The newspaper office was in Boca on East Rogers Circle and the newsroom was filled with off the charts characters and a lot of gifted writers, editors and photographers. It was a golden age of community newspapers and we were growing by leaps and bounds—the Monday-Thursday Papers was a great place for me to learn from older and much more experienced journalists who spent a lot of time showing me the ropes and teaching me how to spot news and dig deep for the telling detail that made a story resonate.
It was a magical time and again friendship drove a lot of the creativity, fun and success of the venture. We enjoyed each other, hung out together at Dirty Moe’s, went to lunch at Spinnakers, Tom Sawyer’s, Boston’s, Ken and Hazel’s and George’s Diner. We pushed each other to succeed and laughed along the way. I couldn’t wait to go to work in those days.
Over time, the era came to an end. People move on, to other jobs, me included. The industry changed, technology changed, the characters that made newsrooms so amazing faded away. And I miss them. I think the world misses them.
I next experienced magic– driven by friendship and relationships– during my 7 years as an elected official in Delray Beach. In hindsight, it was a special era. The great initiatives and visions that I covered as a reporter were largely completed by 2000 and so the group I served with and the staff I worked alongside were given the gift of a blank slate.
When that happens, you have two options. Build on what came before and put your own stamp on things or go in another direction. We chose to build on. And we did.
We engaged people in a Downtown Master Plan, we did a plan for parks, we did a cultural plan, we focused on neighborhoods, we delved into race relations, worked to engage citizens, addressed recruitment and attrition issues in police and fire, adopted a southwest neighborhood plan, revamped our historic preservation policies and invested in assets like Old School Square and the library which moved to West Atlantic which became a major focus. We moved the high school and focused on schools. But we did more than just plan and dream. We got things done. And we did it as a team.
We celebrated our successes and we came together during the hard times too—hurricanes, the death of Jerrod Miller and the myriad controversies that occur in a place that people are passionate about.
Along the way, you make friends—and a few enemies– but you realize in hindsight that it is all about relationships and the ability to touch people; to make their lives better if you can.
I served with commissioners, citizens and city staff who talked about the need to listen, work together and take responsibility for trying to make a positive difference on whatever challenges we faced. They believed in building a great city and we were willing to try new approaches in order to make things happen. We were bold and ambitious and took some risks. Some stuff worked, some things fell short. But we learned together and it was a whole lot of fun.
I served with a Commissioner named Alberta McCarthy and she talked about community unity and we adopted the slogan. As we see divisions in our nation get wider by the day during a particularly brutal election season; as we witness bickering at city commission meetings and negativity on social media, I think about that phrase. Maybe some think it’s trite and corny. But it isn’t. It’s a big thought, an ideal, something to strive for. It may or may not be achievable. But it’s everything, isn’t it? It’s about coming together to build a better future for as many people possible; hopefully everybody.
We never achieved it totally, but I think we came close enough to see what it looked like.
Magic occurs when caring people commit to each other; whether it’s a childhood friendship that never ends; a successful business or a city that wants to make something happen.
You can have all the raw material—money, strategy, resources galore but you need the people part. That’s a must.
It’s all about the relationships…there is no short cut around people and you can’t achieve great things in isolation. You need friends. It’s just that simple.

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.

Here’s to the Rebels

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Apple “Think Different” advertising campaign.

I had a strange thought when I heard about the death of Prince over the weekend.

Where are the creative geniuses in politics?

Where are the round pegs, the innovators, the geniuses and rebels?

Could be it be that politics doesn’t lend itself to the archetypes that Apple’s ad described? You know, the Einstein’s, Earhart’s, Picasso’s, Edison’s and yes Bowie’s and Prince’s of the world–people whose sheer brilliance and creativity changed the way we see the world.

Sure we’ve had Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Lincoln, Churchill, King and FDR but it sure seems that the arts and entrepreneurship produce more game changers.

At the risk of alienating some friends, the overwhelming sentiment that seems to accompany this presidential election cycle is the strong feeling on both sides of “is this really the best we can do?”

That feeling runs the gamut from president to our legislature and city councils. Where are the visionaries, the healers, the uniters and the innovators?

Maybe our politics no longer lends itself to creativity and innovation. Democrats have to conform to certain beliefs and so do Republicans. Stray from the orthodoxy and you are toast. Try to evolve and you’re a flip flopper. Introduce an idea that bucks the status quo and you’ve lost your base.

We see it on a local level with elected officials afraid to cast votes that may upset the loud voices and yet doesn’t progress rely on taking chances, on saying yes sometimes.

If you study the list of Apple’s “Think Different” icons and the few others we’ve lost this year including Bowie and Prince it becomes clear what sets them apart. Sure they are talented and creative. Yes, some were extraordinarily smart but the common thread is they didn’t succumb to fear.

I can’t say that they were fearless–chances are they felt fear– but all of them decided to be themselves anyway, to pursue their art, vision or passion.

Maybe politics–which has been described as the art of compromise– (but now even compromise is viewed as weakness)–is no longer designed for the game changers in our society.

If that’s the case, we ought to mourn that as well. Or we ought to be hard at work to change that.

We need the rebels, the creatives, the originals to get to work on the most pressing challenges and opportunities of our time. At every level of our society.

Moving the Big Rocks

When it comes to publicity very few people can match Donald Trump.
But Mr. Trump met his match last week with the immense amount of coverage given to Pope Francis on his maiden voyage to America.
The Donald and the Pope talk about many of the same issues, immigration, income inequality and climate change, but with all due respect to our Palm Beach neighbor, I prefer listening to Pope Francis’ message—and I’m not even Catholic.
While he was visiting the U.S., Pope Francis skipped out on Congress to eat lunch at a homeless shelter, visited a Philadelphia jail and in one of his most stirring public addresses, reminded mass-goers to stop averting their eyes.

“In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath ‘the rapid pace of change,’ so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’ to be there, no right to be part of the city,” he said at a mass held Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. “They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, and the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”
Pope Francis knows that our shared future depends on building cities where all people have the opportunity to thrive. But how do you do that?
There are ideas galore from across the country on strategies that work. There are best practices relating to housing, crime, neighborhood revitalization, economic development and education.
But I would argue that the first step is always a decision on whether you want to do these things.
Many cities say they want to tackle their problems, but often it’s only words. But the cities that act are the ones to watch and the communities to emulate.
The problems we face today are vast, serious and seemingly endless and intractable. Most Americans would agree that Washington is broken and that their state governments, while usually more functional than Washington (a very low bar indeed) are also vast and distant from most people’s day to day lives.
The answers therefore must come from the cities, smaller communities that can marshal resources and people and actually solve or at least improve problems if they choose to do so.
The operative word though is choose…cities must commit.
I’m a fan of citizen-driven planning. When done well and with the right motives and people in the room, there is no more powerful tool that communities have than to create a blueprint by engaging as many stakeholders as possible.
I’ve seen this strategy change cities, including Delray Beach and I have seen cities fail to advance because they don’t engage their stakeholders.
So who are the stakeholders?
They include residents, property owners, non-profit organizations, educators, social service providers, law enforcement, business owners etc., anybody who has a “stake” in a city’s past, present and future. These are stakeholders, not special interests.
But often cities fail in their visioning and planning if they try and cut corners by either convening for the wrong reasons (to check a box), restricting input, rushing the process or the common mistake of dictating from the top.
Community engagement takes longer and can be messy. But engaging the public has magical advantages including buy-in and better ideas.
But once you commit, you had better deliver.
When I look at my city of Delray Beach and my neighbor Boca Raton, I see two really different but complementary communities with vast resources and amenities. But I also see challenges and opportunities.
There is great wealth and great poverty in our communities. There are safe neighborhoods and dangerous ones. There are kids who thrive and children who struggle with poverty, violence and dysfunctional home lives.
Cities are fascinating places because they have obligations to the past, present and future and they have responsibilities to all people—including the invisible and the struggling, the people mentioned by the Pope.
We can honor the past by preserving our historic neighborhoods and buildings, but also by recognizing the hard work that went into long term visions for our cities. We can serve the present by adapting those visions for today’s needs and by ensuring that current residents, from all walks of life have a place in our planning and in our communities. And we can create a better future by remembering that we are stewards. Therefore, it’s not all about our needs, wishes and conveniences; we also have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren as well.
Back in the day, we called some of these issues “the Big Rocks”. And we were determined to move them, even if ever so slightly forward. In Delray, the big rocks were education, crime, neighborhoods, race relations, building a vibrant and sustainable downtown, supporting culture, preserving the beach and creating jobs beyond food and beverage. In Boca, which had good schools, strong businesses, culture and neighborhoods I saw the big rocks as mobility, creating a downtown core and building on some remarkable foundations; medicine, education and technology.
Washington may or may not be fixable—but our cities are pockets of opportunity for us to work on big challenges and be beacons for others to emulate. You just have to choose to move the big rocks.

Municipal Math: It’s All About People

If I’ve learned one thing in my career, it’s that you can have the best systems, the best platform, a great idea, plenty of money and every other advantage but you’ll fail if you don’t attract and keep the right people.

It’s a simple concept, really.

But very difficult to achieve.

Yet, whether you are running a business, a city, a school or a non-profit you will not be able to achieve lasting success unless you create a culture that attracts, nurtures, rewards, ignites and inspires people. Good people.

And if you work hard enough and create just such an environment, you have to realize that your creation is fragile and will not survive complacency or lack of accountability. If you fail to constantly iterate, engage and assess, the gains you made will erode.

Achieving success is just one part of the journey; the key is to sustain success. That’s the prize and it is hard to attain. But worth the effort.

For many years, the cities of Boca Raton and Delray Beach worked with a consultant named Lyle Sumek. Lyle was a former assistant city manager in San Diego and he worked with cities across the country on goal setting and implementation. Lyle had a concept he called “municipal math”; which essentially said it could take 20 plus years to build something of value, but only a year or two to squander what was built if you make the wrong decisions or hire/elect the wrong people. The sad part of municipal math is that once you mess up, it could take 10 years or more to get something back and there were guarantees you would.

Muni math was a sobering concept and it stuck with me. Leadership matters. People matter.

I’m a firm believer that leadership is the key ingredient to success in any endeavor, but I also believe that we do a poor job of training and developing leaders.

We don’t teach leadership in schools, we don’t study why leaders succeed or stumble, but yet we long for great leaders.

I can think of no other scenario in life in which we yearn for something but don’t take steps to make it happen.

If we want better medical outcomes, we invest in science. If we want better educators, we invest in teacher training. In business, we invest in products and technology. But yet we don’t make a similar investment in identifying, training and developing leaders.

As a result, we watch helplessly as Congress fails miserably to serve our country. We shake our heads when presidents, governors, mayors and other elected officials fail our communities.

In business, we see investments go down the drain; victims of egotistical CEO’s or watch in disgust as a manufacturer looks the other way and produces cars that endanger their customers all because of a culture that enabled people to look the other way.

All are symptoms of poor or inadequate leadership.

I believe that we need to start studying and investing in leadership education and that we need to make such courses available far and wide, in all industries and endeavors.

We live in a great nation. Imagine how much better it would be, how many problems would be solved, how many people would be positively impacted if we were able to develop leaders as accomplished as our best coders, financial minds and scientists. Just imagine.