Washington Post columnist David Broder has a column today titled Three Words For the Next President which begins:
Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster whose firm has interviewed thousands of voters this year, says the attributes most of them desire in a president for 2008 can be summed up in three words: transparency, authenticity and unity.
I needed help from him in understanding the first word. But when he said it meant honesty, openness, forthrightness in expressing views and clarity about the sources of the candidate’s support, I said that sounded right. The other two traits were easily understandable. Authenticity means comfort in one’s own skin, a minimum of pretense or artificiality, and especially consistency and predictability on matters of principle. The hankering for unity is also palpable and reflects the conspicuous absence of agreement — and excess of partisanship — in the contemporary political scene.
Those three words — transparency, authenticity and unity — sum up nicely not only my wish for the next president but my wish for our city’s leadership (staff, mayor, councilors) at Northfield City Hall.
Unity is unlikely with the current negative atmosphere. I don’t see any benefit in bringing in a mediator or a facilitator until after the lawsuits and investigations have run their course. But even then, it’ll take months and maybe a slate of new faces before we’re likely to experience a city hall that’s united more often than it’s divided.
But individual leaders can proceed with demonstrating more transparency and authenticity on their own. There’s no need for them to wait till the storm is over.
What might our leaders do? Two things come to my mind:
- Council members, please consider holding an ongoing series of Ward/Precinct meetings, face-to-face gatherings in small group settings (homes, restaurants, schools, churches, etc.). Part social, part civic conversation, these types of gatherings can both inspire the citizens who attend and energize you. You are much more likely to be able to convey transparency and authenticity in this type of setting than at a city council meeting or work session.
- Council members and staff leaders, please consider creating a blog or a podcast and using it for strategic, leadership-oriented storytelling. Blog posts are best when they’re short stories, first-person narratives about interactions from your week that indirectly reflect your values, your vision, your strategic initiatives, your hopes. These interactions – phone calls, formal meetings, informal conversations — are how you influence others but they dissipate as soon as they’re over. A blog or a podcast captures them and allows those of us who weren’t there to benefit from them. If you’re worried about handling negative comments, don’t enable that feature. A blog can still be an effective leadership tool without interaction, just like a speech can still be effective without a Q&A period afterwords.
Maybe others here could suggest some other concrete steps our leaders could take. I’ll end with this quotation:
“The people have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge – I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers.” — John Adams, American Founding Father and second U.S. president (1735-1826)