Lessons Learned

ULI is a global non-profit.

I’m a huge fan of the Urban Land Institute.

ULI is a global organization that promotes responsible development and the organization is often called on to provide expert advice on how to build great communities.

I’ve worked with the organization on a few special projects over the years including public leadership seminars and an in-depth dive into the future of Winter Park, Florida.

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a talented panel seeking to help Tamarac, in West Broward County make sense of their potential.

It was a great experience and I got to meet some terrific elected officials and very dedicated staff. The ULI panel also consisted of some really smart people including economic development professionals, a real estate broker for a large firm, a cutting edge developer and a very talented urban designer from Miami. I thought I’d share a small portion of my session on public leadership.

 

Ten Lessons Learned

 (Some the hard way, but most by watching other leaders and learning from talented mayors).

  1. Focus on the Big Rocks (Don’t Major in the Minor)

Being an elected official is like drinking from a fire hose… you will get lost in the weeds if you’re not careful. Successful elected officials learn to lead and leave the management to staff. They also focus on large meaningful goals—“the big rocks.”

 

2. Trust But Verify

(Trust movement but outcomes are more important than words)

 

Even if you focus on the big picture, you will be blamed for the potholes. So empower staff to do their jobs but also hold them accountable for getting things done—both large and small. Outcomes are what you will be judged on. Process is important, but sometimes you can have process without outcomes. Make sure that doesn’t happen. You have to deliver. Have a sense of urgency.

 

3. Have a Vision-

The “Grassroots” (your constituents) depend on the “Grass Tops” (elected officials and senior staff) to get things done.

The most successful cities have a vision for what they want to be and how they’ll get there.

The best cities are aspirational, so dare to dream but also understand who you are as a community.

Visions Should Be Community Based—coming from the Grassroots.

Community Visions Should Be Sacred– Elected officials (Grass tops) are Stewards and have a responsibility to deliver.

Visions allow you to say no to projects that don’t fit and to say yes to projects that fit the vision.

 

4. Find Shared Goals

 The most successful councils/commission’s have shared goals.

Not having shared goals leads to:

Dysfunction

Staff Confusion

Inaction—whose ideas, projects should we pursue?

Creates Winners and Losers

End result—it’s hard to make sustained progress.

Once the other side gets in or the players change, policies, directions and progress are often reversed. One step up, two steps back syndrome.

 

5. Celebrate Success

(Blame is a given in public life, might as well celebrate when you succeed)

Let the community know when you fulfill a promise or achieve a goal.

It’s important to celebrate—it builds civic pride and confidence in City Hall. You need to build a reservoir of good will to take advantage of opportunities and to weather setbacks.

 

6. The Loudest Voices Aren’t Necessarily Representative of the Community

 

Be wary of people who claim to speak for “everyone”

Our jobs as elected officials is to leave the city better than we found it. Sometimes that means making tough decisions that may not always be popular at the time we are asked to vote.  But if  your votes are tied to a community vision or goals, you will survive and thrive.

 

7. Mayors and Commissioners are the architects of their city

 

We are responsible for holding developers to high standards…but we are also responsible for making sure there is “rule of law” and a predictable process. If we allow our cities to become nightmares, we will chase away investment and or attract the wrong investors. Mayors and commissioners set the tone for their cities. Are we nice? Are we civil? Are we professional? Or are we mean and petty? Mean and petty is a recipe for failure.

 

8. The Best Economic Development is a Clear Vision and Predictable Process

 

If you can develop a compelling vision for your city, it will serve as a great sales and marketing tool for your town. If you can get investors through your process without it becoming a clown show or worse you will see progress. It’s that simple. The best incentives are a compelling vision and a predictable process with high standards.

 

9. Once Votes Are Taken, It’s Our Responsibility to Make Sure We Get the Best Outcomes Possible


We won’t always get our way. We will lose tough votes. But once the roll is called and the votes are cast we must move on and not re-litigate over and over. If the decision is horrible, it will tend to reveal itself in time and you will have another chance to right the wrong. If it moves forward, we must move forward too.

 

10. Municipal Math

(Math can be cruel)

 

It takes 10-20 years to build something of value, 1-2 years to mess it up and there is no guarantee you will recover. So think about the future and leave your city better off than when you were entrusted with its welfare.

 

 

Time to Vote

Delray elections are Tuesday, March 14.

“Apathy is the most important political force in the United States. In the 2016 election, the most important in your and my lifetime, about half of Americans didn’t think it was worth voting.” Ian Bremmer, founder of a risk assessment group.

Tomorrow is Election Day in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Thank goodness.

In Delray, fewer people are likely to vote than in 1990 when Tom Lynch ran for Mayor against two opponents or in 2000 when David Schmidt was elected also in a three way race.

I sure hope I’m wrong because local elections are important and the people we elect matter.

Get it right and you have a chance for progress and community happiness.

Get it wrong and you can wipe out decades of success in a few months time.

Local government consultant Lyle Sumek  who worked in Delray and Boca used to call it municipal math: it can take 20 years to build something of significance and only a year or two to wipe it out. It might take a decade to get it back and that’s never a certainty.

So that’s why I’m supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4. I don’t want to go back. We’ve slipped far enough.

That’s the sentiment of most of the people that I know and they are the very ones who have worked so hard to help Delray over the years.

They are supporting Jim and Shirley too.

They are former mayors and commissioners, board members at key non-profits, business leaders, neighborhood leaders and those involved in our schools. Our police officers and firefighters also support Jim and Shirley.

This kind of support is important.

These are the people who get up every day and work or volunteer on behalf of Delray.

I trust their judgment.

They’ve built a pretty good little city and they are worried about the future. They should be.

Because Delray is at a crossroads.

We’re in trouble. And we need to strengthen the commission not hand more votes to those who have given us division, turnover and costly dysfunction. And make no mistake, dysfunction is expensive.

It costs us opportunities and investment and it costs us emotionally too as good contributors leave or invest their time elsewhere.

Jim Chard is a dedicated community volunteer with a distinguished resume and a skill set that we need. He’s thoughtful and he listens. That’s an important trait—because “leadership”  that keeps its own counsel and is cut off from those volunteering and investing in Delray is not really leadership at all. It’s an echo chamber and it leads to frustration and lost opportunity.

Jim’s been involved in many of the most important issues facing Delray as a member of Delray’s Drug Task Force and Congress Avenue Task Force. I chaired the Congress Avenue Task Force. Jim was an invaluable contributor, a hard worker and a fountain of ideas. I watched him build relationships with our large and diverse task force and build bridges that led to a great final report and solid, actionable recommendations.

As Vice Chair of our Site Plan Review and Appearance Board he is well versed in projects coming through the pipeline and has been a champion of walkability, sustainability and placemaking. If elected tomorrow, he will hit the ground running with a deep understanding of the issues.

He is also a level headed adult. And we need that now.

Shirley Johnson is also a warm and caring individual. She’s hard working and is embraced by the northwest and southwest alliance; neighborhoods that are critically important to our city.

She will provide needed maturity to the commission and will help bring civility and warmth to City Hall.

And for those who don’t think that’s important, I respectfully disagree. People perform best when they feel supported. A culture driven by fear or micromanagement might get short term results. But you’ll never soar unless you inspire, lead, motivate and support those doing the work. Right now, many contributors feel estranged, bullied, disrespected and ignored by their elected leaders. That’s an unsustainable arrangement and needs to change.

I believe that Jim and Shirley are equipped to support staff and lead our community. I believe they have the emotional intelligence to reconnect us.

We need them.

Because Delray has been been damaged.

Some say key parts are broken.

I never thought I would see a day where volunteers from neighborhood associations would feel estranged from their city commissioners.  I never thought I’d see a day where Old School Square would have to spend over a year to get a lease or where we would beat up corporate headquarters that we invited to our city or watch as we lose events that built downtown Delray and supported key non-profits. And the list goes on and on.

People react to the word broken–because it’s a harsh word and it sounds final.

But success is never final and failure is never permanent unless we allow it to be.

So let’s put the word aside for a moment and survey the landscape before tomorrow’s important election.

Let’s start at City Hall.

A friend posted on social media last week that over 300 city staffers (not including those who retired) have left in the past four years. It’s an astonishing number in a city our size with roughly 900 positions.

There has been tremendous turnover among senior staff with a dizzying array of managers, assistant managers, city attorneys, chiefs and department heads coming and going.

Some will say that’s Ok or call it growing pains. But it is not the sign of a healthy or stable culture. And when you lose institutional memory—and send messages that the past was terrible—you risk losing the good (and there was a ton of good). Value was created here. Good work was done. Period. Let’s take pride in our history and get to work on building a better future.

I’m hearing good things about interim city manager Neal DeJesus and Assistant City Manager Dale Sugerman but city staff can only succeed if leadership supports them, sets policy, holds them accountable and gets out of the way.

The greatest gift leaders can give their people is clarity but when your commission is split—as it has been –that’s impossible.

Debate is good. Division is not. There’s a difference.

Division does not allow for collaboration and it takes collaboration to move a city forward—which in my view means you are capable of working together to solve problems and to seize opportunities. It also means you are capable of moving on–even if, especially if–you don’t get your way.

When Delray was clicking it was because we had a diverse group of stakeholders from all parts of our city who were hard at work collaborating on building a Better Delray.

Yes. We were a Better Delray before there was a Better Boulder –and it was the leadership of this city who were invited to speak across the country on how to revitalize a city.

That was our brand. And it created enormous value. It’s why our homes in Lake Ida are worth 5 times more than 25 years ago or why developers were able to sell $500-$1mm townhomes on U.S. 1.

“Best Run Town in Florida” said Florida Trend magazine when Mayor Lynch presided civilly at meetings and was happy to make decisions which included building a tennis stadium downtown and challenging city staff to implement the Decade of Excellence –projects that put us on track and were adopted as a result of visioning done during Mayor Doak Campbell’s term.

And City Staff delivered.

 

Now we’re challenged to get a kitchen permit before styles change.

That’s not a shot at staff. Because I’ve been told by contractors that our building department is excellent. That is a shot at our politics and our “process” which our elected officials have labeled torturous but nobody seems to find the time to sit down and fix. Why not?

It also may be a symptom of culture. And elected leaders own culture.

 

The best leaders empower. They don’t micromanage.

The best leaders inspire and get out of the way.

The best leaders instill pride and spread praise.

It’s not happening.

If you read certain candidates literature (the barrage I wrote about) and take a look at social media you’d think Delray was war torn Beirut. It isn’t. We have our issues and challenges, but nothing that good leadership and community collaboration can’t solve or positively impact.

And so if we are not “broken”, then we are certainly exhausted and at risk.

At risk of losing our civic pride.

At risk of losing our brand.

At risk of losing the sense of community that is the true measure of a village. It’s not whether you have a building that’s 54 feet tall or 48 feet tall or gasp 60 feet tall. Most people—even architects– can’t tell the difference anyway.

It’s about how we debate issues and how we approach opportunities and problems. And it’s about how we disagree with each other because it’s easy to agree. The test comes when we don’t.

Do we rip each other to shreds on social media? Do we bully and intimidate? Do we demonize?

When citizens say “we’ve had enough and we’d like a Better Delray” do we embrace that aspiration or do we make snide remarks and buy up similar website URL’s in a snarky attempt to undermine a sincere effort?

When someone wants to invest in our community do we work with them or do we beat the tar out of them and their supporters?

Do we label them shills and challenge their integrity?

If someone wants to see jobs and downtown housing to support locally owned businesses and grow our tax base are we corrupt?

Yet we have Facebook phenoms—none of whom I’ve seen contribute much if anything—disparage the people who do.

Again, I’m far from perfect. I’ve labeled and I’ve gotten angry. But mostly I’ve held back. So have others I know.

I understand how change and growth can be scary and agree that there is a need to preserve our charm. There is also a need to create opportunities for young people and an economy that is deeper than food, beverage and recovery.

I honestly believe that most people want what’s best; but we just have different visions for what makes a sustainable city sustainable. I also believe there are some cranks who just want to sow division and create problems from the comfort of their couch. Ignore them. But embrace those willing to listen and compromise.

Leaders need to be willing to listen, evolve, include and reach out.  They need to be able to gather facts and make decisions. You can’t lead if your mind is closed.

But I don’t see a desire for compromise among certain people. I do see a desire to discredit and disparage others. Especially those who are hard at work in our city. And that’s dangerous. That’s a recipe for dysfunction, instability, bullying, destruction and incivility.

That’s how cities plummet. That’s how we give it all back. Remember municipal math…

That’s why I’m supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4 on Tuesday.

I think they are capable of listening. I think they are kind and able to compromise.

I think they are mature community servants and promising leaders.

I think they can be healers and we need healing.

I just pray that it’s possible.

Vote March 14. It’s important.

 

 

Water Cooler Wednesday: The People Equation

Investing in leadership

Investing in leadership

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.