Kindness Leaves A Mark

A close friend of mine turned 80 last week.
He’s a private person so I won’t name him, but suffice it to say that over the course of his long life he has touched thousands of lives.
But what makes my friend extraordinary is that all of them would say that he influenced them in a positive way. That’s not an exaggeration. Rather it’s a testament to being a good person, someone who wakes up every day seeking to do good in the world.
A common thread ran through the small birthday celebration:  words like kindness, generosity, fun and humility came up time and time again during tributes.
When I left the festivities I thought that’s how it’s supposed to be.
If you live the right way, you will be remembered for your kindness and generosity toward others.
The people we remember, the people who make an impact are those who touch our hearts.
I’ve become absolutely convinced that emotional intelligence is the single biggest predictor of true success in life.
If you can find a way to touch people, make them laugh, show them you care, tell them you believe in them you can move mountains.
I’ve seen it happen.
The best leaders I’ve known have inspired lots of love and affection.
Close readers of this blog know that I’m fascinated by leadership. I believe it’s the answer to most challenges and problems we face.
Put the right leaders in the right seats on the bus and you’ll succeed.
It is not a complicated concept. Yet it sometimes feels so elusive.
Emotionally intelligent leaders get the best out of people. It’s just that simple.
I’ve seen it in business, I’ve seen it at non-profits, fire departments, police departments, a chamber of commerce, arts organizations, a city attorney’s office (here’s looking at you Susan) and in schools.
So perhaps as we go about our lives we should think about what might be said about us at our 80th birthday parties if we are so fortunate to make it that far.
I’d take kind and generous.
It sure beats the alternative.
Plus, we can all use a lot more kindness and generosity in our world.

In Pursuit Of Equal Justice

Bryan Stevenson

Sometimes you see someone so special that it literally takes your breath away.

Someone so brilliant and emotionally intelligent that their words stop you in their tracks and you are left changed by the experience.

That’s how I felt when I heard Bryan Stevenson speak recently at the annual meeting of Leadership Florida in Orlando.

Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative which is the subject of a new HBO documentary.

His work focuses on race and criminal justice reform and how we can inch our way toward a more perfect union.

We live in a society in which 1 in 3 African American males and 1 in 6 Latino men will end up incarcerated; a disturbing statistic that we somehow seem to accept. As if those lives are disposable. As if our nation can afford to throw these people away.

Stevenson wants us to chafe at these statistics.

It’s not that he wants us to feel bad or guilty.

In fact, he wants us to heal and feels that the only path to healing is facing what ails us as Americans.

Stevenson is a founder of the only museum dedicated to the history of lynching in America. It’s located in Montgomery, Alabama.

In fact, he was in Orlando to dedicate a marker at the site of a lynching in that city right here in our state.

By putting the issues front and center, Stevenson is hoping to spark a dialogue and a process that will ultimately lead to the airing of truths and a national reconciliation.

He fears what will happen to us if we don’t discuss these painful issues—slavery, bigotry, racism, violence. He believes it is keeping us apart.

Regardless of how you feel, it’s hard to deny that we have a racial divide in this country and in our own community.
Delray has a fraught relationship with race—Swinton has been a dividing line, we wrestle with issues of equity, trust, inequality and how to communicate.
I see it every day in Delray.

I feel it too.
I know I am not alone.

But I also know that many people  don’t feel the tension or have no interest in engaging.

But those who care about making a lasting difference should care. Because the divide holds us back and we are forever at risk of volatility if we ignore or pretend that these issues aren’t real or don’t exist. We will never reach our potential until we face up to what separates us.
So what we can do?

Stevenson suggests that we put ourselves where we typically refuse to venture.

The best part of Stevenson’s powerful message was his plea for people, especially those who seek to lead to get “proximate” to the issues in their communities.

Stevenson urges all of us to get close to the issues and get to know the most troubled parts of our community.

Proximity enables us to understand, empathize and eventually help.

Distance keeps us apart and does not allow for solutions to take root. It may even be wasteful since often we will prescribe the wrong solutions to community problems because we haven’t taken the time to get close to the suffering.

It may seem easier to turn away, but it’s not says Stevenson. The price we pay is too high—estrangement, anger, violence, division and a host of other ills.

As I watched Stevenson mesmerize a large crowd of experienced leaders, I couldn’t help but think that this is the kind of leadership we are missing in our cities and  inour country.
We need leaders who share, empathize and truly care to get close enough to understand, grow and evolve.

It takes an investment of time and heart. It takes a willingness to set aside preconceptions and open ourselves to possibilities and healing.
This not us versus them politics designed to keep us angry and apart. This is true inclusiveness, idealistic and human. It summons our better angels.

We can choose to remain angry, divided and sure of our positions from the safety of our couches and echo chambers or we can be “proximate” and learn to love thy neighbor.

It’s a simple choice. And an obvious one.

We Long for Leadership: Do We Know What it Looks Like?

Conversely, you are not a leader if you squash ideas and enthusiasm.

Conversely, you are not a leader if you squash ideas and enthusiasm.

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 in government, business, non-profits and academia culled from books and articles on the subject.

 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 you think is 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

 

 

A Call For Servant Leadership

Sums it up, right?

Sums it up, right?

“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” – Herbert Swope

Last week, the Delray Chamber of Commerce wrapped up a four week session on civic engagement and leadership.

The 8 hour program was designed to share information with those who aspire to serve on city boards, take leadership roles in local organizations and or run for political office.

I attended three of the sessions and had the privilege of speaking at the last class. I found the participants to be attentive and passionate about Delray. The discussions were terrific and I think those involved found it to be a valuable experience. (Special kudos to Chamber President Karen Granger and Chamber COO Todd L’Herrou for their leadership regarding the program).

I’m one of those people who fervently believe in the transformative power of leadership.

I just don’t think it’s possible to succeed in any endeavor without leadership and I strongly believe that just about every challenge we face can either be solved or made infinitely better through strong leadership. Conversely, bad or corrosive leadership makes progress darn near impossible.

Leadership is the foundation for success and yet we don’t spend a whole lot of time teaching what it looks like and just as importantly what it feels like because great leadership evokes a certain feeling in a community, business, school or non-profit.

While we don’t seem to focus on leadership development, we do spend a lot of time lamenting the lack of leadership or the poor leadership we are often forced to endure. While good leaders create value, corrosive leadership is costly both in a financial sense and in emotional terms.

I wanted to share snippets of the last class because we are heading toward elections both national and local (in March) and it’s important to choose wisely. If we are well led, the sky is the limit, if we are poorly served we end up compounding our problems and missing out on opportunities. Here are some thoughts that were shared last week:

“When we talk about leadership here in Delray and nationally we never talk about love…but we should… because love is essential to leadership. If you want to be a good leader, you better love your city and you better love people…if you don’t, you won’t make it…you won’t resonate..and we need more leaders who resonate..

Connection is essential to leadership, empathy and passion for your city is just not negotiable…the best leaders touch your heart, they inspire you, they instill pride in the mission and they make you feel supported, appreciated, nurtured and yes loved…Now, I get that some of you will think that is sappy….and that’s Ok….but I would argue that over time people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how they made you feel. Leaders inflate, they don’t deflate…

If you make those you serve feel supported and appreciated you will be able to accomplish anything in your city, your business or your organization. But if you disrespect people, if you bully them, lie to them, fail to connect and fail to appreciate and involve them….you will spin your wheels and you will not be remembered fondly….your time in office will come and it will go…and you will have wasted what I consider to be a unique privilege and honor…to take care of your community, to move it forward and leave it better than you found it.

So I had a simple matrix for success…because being a commissioner or a mayor or a CEO or a board chair…is as complicated as the day is long….but if you want to simplify a complex job…the formula to determine success is pretty simple…

First, it is a job to do, not a job to have.

 To be effective, you have to be willing to risk your position to do what you believe to be the right thing…the commission’s  I served on and the people I worked with and for…were ambitious people. We wanted to make a difference…we wanted to deliver on the people’s vision….and we wanted to tackle or attempt to tackle what we called the big rocks…race relations….civic engagement, a master plan for the downtown.. we wanted to invest in our poorest neighborhoods and we wanted to take the good work done by prior commission’s on education and other important subjects and go even further…I think we did.

We moved the big rocks….but we didn’t solve every problem and we didn’t declare victory on ANY issue….even when Atlantic Avenue became a nationally renowned street, even when we moved the high school, dealt effectively with hurricanes and kept the community intact and safe in the wake of a racially charged shooting…We didn’t declare victory because in community building— in the world of cities and in the world of business— you are never done. And if you are complacent, you will pay a high price. Complacency is a killer.

So…if you have a vision it becomes easier to make the tough calls…because you have something larger than your personal preferences or political ambitions to link too….your citizen driven vision is your true north.

But even if you have hundreds of stakeholders who show up to forge that vision –you have thousands of citizens who don’t show up— and as soon as change is proposed you will be guaranteed to hear from them…and it’s usually not because they are thrilled with the change…

At that point, you have a choice…do you risk it? Do you do your job or do you cave ….or just as bad…. do you play dodgeball and kick the can down the road?…

Remember, It’s a job to do, not to have….so I would argue that you go for it, you stay true to the vision because that is more important than your next election..

My other success gauge is also very simple… I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

I believe this secret is the key to being a successful local elected official.

Ready. Here it is: if you support, encourage and help those who work, invest and volunteer for your city you will succeed. You will get things done and you will be appreciated by the people who make your city work. If you make those who work, invest and volunteer unhappy and or cater to the complainers you will fail and in many cases the complainers will turn on you as well.

Pretty simple eh?

But you’d be surprised (or maybe you won’t) by how often this pretty basic formula is violated.

Fearful of losing their seat or willing to say or do whatever gets them applause from the loudest voices, we often see elected officials make bad decisions to gain favor with the loudest voices in the community while abandoning the most important voices which are often not the loudest, just the smartest.

Now that does not mean you don’t listen to everyone…especially the critics. They may have something to teach you and you need to listen.

But…chances are the best advice is going to come from those in the trenches….the ones who are hard at work in your city.

Most of those folks, may never come to a meeting, they are trusting you to do the right thing….that’s your job and they should be able to live their lives without having to sit through 6 hour meetings…many times the mayors and commissioners I have known would have called on these people to get their input well before a crucial vote…so while it’s always nice to see friendly faces…your vote should not depend on a nose count at the meeting, it should depend on your judgment on what is right for Delray Beach…not what’s right for you or the optics of the night, but what’s good for the long term health of the city.

 

My goal when I completed my term was to have the support and respect of those who were hard at work building and improving this community: the volunteers, the folks serving on city advisory boards, the ones who showed up at charrettes, who run businesses, invest here, give to local charities, work with our kids, lead their neighborhood associations and yes work for our city….that was my team and I saw my job as to help them succeed and to allow them to aspire…”

 

We gave some examples of people who are passionate about the community and how it’s important to nurture that passion.

“Because without love there’s no commitment: we commit to, we fight for and we protect and cherish what we love….your goal as leaders is to find people who love Delray, they are not hard to find if you open your eyes…because if you find them and you serve them…you cannot fail…because they will do wonders for the community.”

Tone matters too in leadership. Civility will never go out of style.

“You can be constructive or destructive…that’s your choice on every issue and with every encounter…This is what I think works….I’ve seen it work. Many mayors led with compassion and strength—all in their own unique way.

It is all about people…we often times forget that…we need to connect, we need to care for each other and we need to find a way to compromise and respect one another…if you do that you succeed as a leader and we all win…you’ll leave a better city….”

We ended the evening with a call to action: stay informed, get involved and find a way to serve and give back. True leadership is servant leadership.

“I’ll finish with 7 traits that I believe are necessary to be successful in leadership…you need all 7, because if you are missing any you won’t succeed.

They are: Integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, a thirst for knowledge, courage (because you will be tested) and judgment. Think about that list, which one can you do without?”

I hope the chamber continues to provide these types of programs. They are important for our community and for our future.

Leadership matters.

 

 

No Way to Run A Railroad

It even has a t-shirt

It even has a t-shirt

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 or 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.

In Praise of Leadership Florida

LF

Ten years ago, I spent the better part of a year attending Leadership Florida (LF), a statewide program designed to give participants an in-depth view of the state’s challenges and opportunities.

I know the term “life changing” has become trite and overused, but my experience in the class program left a lasting and deep impression on me. I’m not alone in that assessment and over the 34 year history of the program—considered one of the finest state leadership programs in the nation—about 1,500 men and women have come away with similar feelings.

The experience instilled in me a love of Florida and a deeper appreciation for its diversity and history. I have lived here for nearly 30 years now, a decade longer than my native New York, and so Florida has become home even though I will always feel an allegiance and a passion for the Empire State.

But my love affair was with Delray Beach. Sure, I liked Florida, but I didn’t have a love for the state until I experienced Leadership Florida. In LF, I found a community of leaders committed to the betterment of their cities, state and nation. They hail from business, the non-profit world, education and government but the common ground among this diverse group is a commitment to making a difference. We are Democrats and Republicans, conservatives, moderates and liberals and since the program is 34 years old there is a wide age range involved. In fact, my son Ben just graduated from College Leadership Florida and I have friends who have been involved in the executive program (for CEOs), Connect (for young professionals) and a new program for educators (hoping my daughter attends). You can say that LF covers a lot of ground.

Every year, LF holds an annual meeting featuring world class speakers on a variety of topics. This year the event was in Orlando which led to a lot of discussion on the mass shooting and what can be done to make our state safer.

The speakers also talked about poverty in Florida (1 in 6 live below the poverty line), the shrinking middle class and what it means for America and of course leadership.

Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author, gave an engaging speech on this moment in history—Trump vs. Clinton—reminding everyone that while this year is extraordinary, America has had its share of interesting and tumultuous politics throughout its history.

A devout Jeffersonian, Meacham lamented that his guy was being overshadowed by rival Alexander Hamilton thanks to a popular Broadway show featuring rap music intermingled with history.

His idea is to follow “Hamilton” with a show called “TJeff” that would celebrate the life and legacy of our nation’s third president. But humor aside, the graduate of Suwanee College (which he describes as a cross between “Deliverance” and “Downton Abbey”) reminded the audience of how George Washington took pains to solve the bitter feud between the Jefferson camp and the Hamiltonians only to be swiftly rebuffed. Ahh….politics.

Meacham did say that effective leaders throughout history tended to be good writers and tended to know exactly how to reach their followers. Today, that could mean tweeting and getting your message across in 140 characters.

Meacham was fascinating, glib and helped to put this particular moment in our history in perspective.

My other favorite speaker was Ambassador James Joseph who now runs an ethics and leadership center at Duke University. Joseph was ambassador to South Africa when Nelson Mandela came to power. Throughout a long and distinguished career, he has served four U.S. Presidents and has observed leaders at all levels of government.

Joseph seemed to long for a time when “leadership was defined as someone who inspired us and appealed to our better nature.”

Today he sees a tremendous amount of anxiety, alienation and adversity but believes that all of those concerns can be addressed without the bitterness we are seeing today. He says the meanness of public life is the biggest challenge facing leaders and that we must find a way toward national reconciliation.

“A fear of difference is a fear of the future,” he said. “We have to find a way to co-exist.”

He sees four elements to leadership, three traits you need and one you need to avoid:

  • Emotional Intelligence—which he defines as having the ability to be the adult in the room, having compassion and self-control.
  • Moral Intelligence—good leaders know how to think about and talk about values without succumbing to insults or caving into politics.
  • Moral Imperialism—leaders need an ability to resist the urge to divide and develop skills to unite and compromise.
  • Social Intelligence—recognizes the many ways the world is changing.

“I want to see leaders who understand this phrase…’I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you’,” Joseph said. “Effective leadership turns me and you into us.”

Joseph and his wife, an Emmy Award winning documentarian, spoke to the College Leadership Florida graduates at lunch. There he spoke about the importance of hope.

“Effective leaders are not just agents of reconciliation but agents of hope,” he said. “Hope sustains innovation, hope builds profits and the gift of hope is as important a gift as life itself.”

Well said.

I hope you’ll consider applying to Leadership Florida.

 

 

 

Key Traits of Exceptional Leaders

leadershipimage

Harvard Business School just released an exhaustive 10 year study on leadership.

The study– which included interviews with 2,700 leaders and analytical data crunching courtesy of IBM’s Watson– came up with the following key traits of exceptional leaders:

They Know the Whole Business—exceptional executives and leaders have deep knowledge of how their organizations work and how the pieces fit together to create value and deliver results.

Great leaders understand the big picture and the different disciplines that make an enterprise hum. They strengthen the “seams” to minimize weaknesses and make sure silos don’t exist.

 

They are great decision-makers—Exemplary leaders have the ability to declare their views, engage others’ ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call and communicate the decision clearly. No hand-wringing, no waffling, no blaming others. Because they are great decision-makers, they are also exceptional at setting priorities. They know what’s important and avoid overwhelming the system with competing goals. They tend to balance instinct with analytics; trusting their gut but getting and trusting the facts too.

 

They know the industry—they study their fields and understand the ever changing world they work in. They know they have competition and they mind the landscape and don’t make decisions in a vacuum. They have innate curiosity.

 

They form deep, trusting relationships—they meet the needs of key stakeholders, they communicate in compelling ways and reach beyond superficial transactions to form mutually beneficial relationships. Their legacy becomes a positive reputation for delivering results while genuinely caring for those they serve.

Of the four traits, relational failures often tripped up even those who scored high on the other three attributes.

The best executives develop trust and invest in developing their own emotional intelligence and actively seek feedback on how others experience them.

Do these traits correspond to political and community leadership? My guess is that they do.

Certainly, we want our mayors and council members to know the whole community, be great decision-makers, know the industry they are involved in (building competitive, sustainable and happy cities/communities) and we would all benefit if they form deep, trusting relationships with the people they serve.

So the next time you think about your elected leadership on the local, county, state and federal levels ask yourself if they have these traits. It’s hard on a federal level to develop close relationships—unless of course you write big checks (sigh), but on a local level it’s not too much to ask for…it’s the beauty of local government.

 

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

Compassionate communities produce a whole lot of this.

Compassionate communities produce a whole lot of this.

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 Lynda Hunter, the legendary children’s librarian who taught generations 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. And I realized– once again–how important gratitude and thankfulness is in places that seek to be communities.

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 those things are 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 Avenue 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 in sync these days. That we have sprung loose from those very important moorings. So every week, we experience symptoms of that condition: we blame the (insert name of agency here)  for—take your pick: being too successful, not being successful enough, having too much money, spending too much, spending too little, being out of touch etc. etc.

We criticize our (insert an institution here)  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, civic entrepreneurs. 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 and chock full of challenges– but still pretty terrific. Sorry, but we have nothing to apologize for and a lot to be proud of. To those who are concerned by change, I agree—to a point. I also know that change is inevitable. You can fight it, manage it, shape it, stamp you feet or hold your breath–but it’s going to happen.

But let’s talk about change intelligently.

“The opposite to bad development is good development, not no development,” said the architect Padriac  Steinschneider. He was right. Let’s talk about design and placemaking; that somehow gets lost and it’s important.

But not most important. Most important is how we interact.

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.

 

 

7 Traits of Extraordinary Leaders

Leader

“If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it – young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous – is changed by it.”

 John C. Maxwell

 

We long for leadership in our society.

We look for it everywhere; in business, in politics, in education, health care and in the non-profit world.

We thirst for it, search for it and complain about it when we don’t see or experience it.

But it remains elusive and at times it seems like a mirage, sometimes you come close and it disappears into the vapor.

But when it shows up, progress happens. And the progress can be lasting and exponential, that’s how powerful leadership can be.

I’ve noticed that in well led communities and businesses, people seem happier even when bad things happen as they often do.

It’s somehow easier to deal with life’s travails and inevitable setbacks when you have faith and confidence in leadership.

I’ve spent my entire adult life studying leadership—I seek wisdom in biographies of leaders I admire, analyze people that I think are effective and often times begin my day searching for quotes that inspire.

I know it can be a little hokey, but I’m a believer.

The best leadership inspires progress, frames reality and is authentic. It’s also consistent; it shows up when it’s needed– not just for photo ops.

The best leaders I know are servant leaders; less concerned with “optics” (what a despicable word) and focused on seeking the truth and positive outcomes, even if speaking the truth or following your conscience may sting—at least initially.

I have been fortunate to seek and find leadership in some pretty interesting places over the years.

I found it at home watching my grandparents and parents live honorable lives; doing right by people over and over again.

My grandfather and father were quiet leaders—they never held “positions” of power but smart people sought them out for advice and were never turned away or disappointed.

I watched my mother and my sister in law battle cancer with dignity and lead their loved ones through a dark journey with courage and grace.

As a young reporter, I worked for a volatile but very lovable editor named Tom Sawyer (his real name) and a gentle editor named Debbie Stern. They were different types of leaders: Tom was the crusty but ‘heart of gold’ kind of editor straight out of central casting.

He took me to lunch at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca on my first day of work and told me they named the place after him. I almost believed him. He would chase us out of the newsroom back in the day telling us that no news ever happened in the office; we had to go out and beat the streets.

And we did.

Happily.

When we wrote a bad story, we heard about it. But if we wrote a good story, we also heard about it and we beamed from ear to ear because we knew Tom was tough but fair and that he believed in us and wanted us to be better. I knew in my bones that he was rooting for me and I wanted to earn his praise.

Debbie was a nurturer. She led with humor, smarts and insights. She also believed in her reporters and we worked hard to get her attention too. She doesn’t know it, but she influenced me deeply.

We’re having lunch today (we meet quarterly, she’s very organized) because even after all these years, she’s a touchstone for me. She was a leader.

I’ve also seen and experienced leadership in my business and entrepreneurial endeavors—the best leaders I’ve seen in business are generous, willing to take risks, share credit, accept honest mistakes, learn and move on whether they win or lose. They don’t dwell, they learn.

In education, I watched Dr. Kathy Weigel lead at Atlantic High School through controversy and all sorts of challenges.  And the recently retired Bill Fay led with humor, warmth and passion for kids and teachers.

At Old School Square, Joe Gillie led Delray Beach to two All America City Awards while working closely with another extraordinary leader Frances Bourque to build a cultural arts center that jumpstarted a downtown and saved a city from blight, crime and disinvestment.

In my new book, “Adventures in Local Politics” (shameless plug) I found myself writing a lot about former Police Chief Rick Overman and former Fire Chief Kerry Koen, who had different leadership styles but much in common: a devotion to their troops and the community, an ability to see the big picture and how their department’s fit in to the larger vision and a willingness to speak truth to power when those in power needed a dose of reality.

I also wrote a lot about Mayors Tom Lynch and David Schmidt, two distinctly different leaders, who also had more in common once you got beyond obvious style differences. Mayor Lynch was a big thinker and a transformational type of leader whose calm demeanor, toughness when needed and business acumen really moved the needle at a time when we needed it. Mayor Schmidt was a quiet leader, confident enough in his own skin to let others shine but also extremely tough when pushed and able to do what he believed was right even if it would have been more expedient to punt on issues ranging from moving Atlantic High School to voting for Worthing Place.

I can go on. (And let’s because it’s fun).

Nancy Hurd was an extraordinary leader at the Achievement Center for decades and mentored a wonderful young leader in Stephanie Seibel so that the center’s mission could continue unabated when Nancy retired. Ken Ellingsworth, Bill Wood and now Karen Granger have been solid leaders at our 90 year old chamber of commerce; each leading with warmth and genuine love for the community.

And there are more but the point is simple. Leadership matters. You can’t succeed without it—in business or in cities.

I think we need to spend more time talking about what good leadership looks like and feels like. I think we need to discuss what we expect from those who seek leadership positions in our communities.

Here’s a list of seven traits that I look for in leaders: integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, courage and judgment.

I’ve seen people who have all seven and I’ve seen those who are 0-7.

A recent study that looked at the successes and failures of 11 American Presidents showed that emotional intelligence (EI) was the key quality for success.

Presidents high in EI (Lincoln, FDR) chose their battles wisely, behave assertively when necessary and display the courage needed to confront sticky situations with confidence.

They are able to recognize and understand their own moods, emotions and drives as well as their effect on others. They have the ability to align people, bringing them together to work toward a common goal.

They are able to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the skills it takes to treat people according to their emotional reactions.

Leaders with high EI energize people and eliminate disagreements and conflicts through excellent communication.

A high bar?

Perhaps, but it’s possible. In fact, we can’t thrive or progress without it. Of that, I am certain.