Swearing In..

16 square miles…and endless possibilities.

“Our finger prints don’t fade from the lives we touch”- Judy Blume

Tonight, two new commissioners Shirley Johnson and Jim Chard will be sworn in at Delray Beach City Hall after a short but grueling campaign.

The old joke is first you get sworn in and then you get sworn at—and there’s truth to that statement.

Serving in local office can be a contact sport.

Unlike state and federal offices—being a local elected official means you vote around the block from where you live and you do so in front of your neighbors. That’s the beauty and challenge of local government—ideally it should keep you grounded and hopefully accountable because unlike Washington and Tallahassee where you tend to vote with a team, far, far away from your constituents here at home you have to face your neighbors at the grocery store, soccer field and in the school pick-up line. That’s a good thing.

So what does it take to succeed?

In my book “Adventures in Local Politics” I mention 7 traits that leaders need in order to find success. They are: integrity, passion, emotional intelligence, vision, a thirst for knowledge, courage (because you will be tested) and judgment.

The rub is you need all 7 to succeed because if you are missing one, it will trip you up.

Think about it: Lack of integrity is a deal killer– you can be brilliant and charismatic but if you’re corrupt or fundamentally dishonest your toast.

You better have passion for your city and the people in it because if you aren’t genuine you’re going to fall short.

Passion is usually twinned with a thirst for knowledge—if you’re passionate you tend to want to learn all you can about the subject matter.

Courage is a must, because you won’t always be popular. As for judgment, that’s  something that gets measured over time.

While nobody bats .1000 you need to get most of the big decisions right or you won’t be fondly remembered. Judgment also means that you know how to prioritize—therefore you don’t major in the minor, you understand the job (where it begins and where it ends) and that you know who is real and who is playing you.

I think demeanor and tone is important as well. Your words matter. How you interact with people—and whether you interact with people–counts.

As noted before, you need to develop chemistry and trust with your team and your team is the staff at City Hall—especially your direct reports and you only have two—the City Manager and the City Attorney under our council/manager form of government.

While I’m a believer in accountability, I also believe that a supportive culture is what builds championship organizations. It’s hard to innovate when you’re being chased by a lion.

In other words, if your staff fears you, you won’t get their best efforts.

They should respect you and the sentiment should be mutual, but a fearful or bullied workforce won’t produce over the long haul. If your staff is reluctant to write a report or make recommendations because they fear getting shredded you have a problem because you’ll be surrounded by “yes men and women” and that’s how mistakes get made. That said you should feel free to respectfully challenge assumptions and encourage staff to justify their advice. But when they call the roll—it’s your vote and ultimate accountability resides with you, the elected official. It’s also important to make decisions–and not let issues linger for months or years. Former Mayor Tom Lynch gave me great advice when I was first elected: you have to make the best decisions you can, with the information you have at the time you are called upon to vote. Most mistakes aren’t fatal or final–but allowing issues to linger can be damaging. Vote and move on. Never make it personal–you’ll win some and lose others. Vote your conscience and explain why–most people will respect that.

Ideally, you want a team that will run through walls for you and for each other. That only comes with time and when you invest in relationships and when they know you have their backs as well. I will never understand elected officials who refuse to build relationships or those who think they have all the answers.

Serving a community you love is a rare honor.

There are 19,429 municipal governments in the United States. Many have three, five or seven elected officials meaning there are roughly 100,000 city elected officials at any given time out of a U.S. population of about 325 million.

As you can see, being a mayor and commissioner is a unique privilege. That’s why it’s important for elected officials to understand that it’s a job to do, not a job to have. And there’s a big difference.

In Delray, you are only guaranteed three years—and it flies by. Even if you get two terms, that’s only six years; a blur in the scheme of things. So you have to have a sense of urgency in order to make an impact.

We started this post with a joke about being sworn in and then sworn at. It’s true.

If you step into the public arena, you can count on meeting the critics in your community. Listen to them; they may have something to teach you. But there will come a time—hopefully early in your tenure when you’ll have to make a choice on who you hope to please because you will not be able to please everyone.

The elected officials who make a lasting impact and make a true difference are those who seek to serve the people in their communities who are hard at work building the community. The hard workers at City Hall, the men and women in your public safety departments, the community leaders and volunteers who are involved in schools, neighborhoods, children’s issues, charities, business, the arts and more.

When your time in office is over—those are the stakeholders that you will want to have helped. It’s about achieving their goals. Remember this is supposed to be about service to others.

The naysayers—here’s a prediction based on experience: you won’t be able to please them. And chances are that even if you do— on an issue or two— you’ll find that you won’t on something else and they’ll dump you.

But the community builders they are a different story; even if you differ with them on a few things. They’ll stick by you, because they know they can’t win them all and they are in it for the long haul.

Those are the people you want on your side. And ultimately their verdict will determine whether you succeed or fail. If you help them leave Delray a better place than when you found it, you will be a success. If you take the city backwards or dismantle the progress made by others you will fail.

It’s just that simple.

There are people who build things up and people who tear things down. Just remember whose side you’re on.


7 Traits of Extraordinary Leaders


“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.


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.