Leadership Is Too Often Lacking in Our Profession

Introducing a new series in PM magazine

By Edward Everett, ICMA-CM | Dec 1, 2020 | ARTICLE

Our profession has done a marvelous job teaching management skills. Unfortunately, we have not paid enough attention to leadership and, when we do, we often restrict our focus to the “bosses” within an organization. Anyone in any organization can be a leader. Leadership is in no way restricted to bosses and some bosses are not leaders.

Leadership has never been more critical as we now face a triple crisis: financial, COVID-19, and racial justice. During a crisis, people change in one of two ways: Some experience fear and recede into the safety of inaction or the known, while others have the courage to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Use this crisis to lead, regardless of your present position!

Our profession has a well-deserved reputation of being risk adverse with too many city managers afraid of being fired. This fear impacts their ability to be an effective leader. Unfortunately, our profession doesn’t encourage us to talk about our fears—either how our fears have an enormous impact on our mindset and actions, or how to muster the courage to confront our fears.

Leadership requires a certain mindset. Although my title was city manager, my mindset was that my job was as the “city leader.” My job was to lead the organization, the council, and the community. I completely understood and respected the manager-council relationship; however, that never prevented me from trying to lead the organization, the council, and the community without violating that relationship. Our mindset dictates our actions.

Leadership is challenging, soul-fulfilling, and essential to making positive changes in yourself, your organization, and your community; however, discussions of leadership are often too generalized or oversimplified. Many leadership programs have a narrow and limited focus, with program titles like, “The 10 Most Important Things Leaders Must Do.” Others become a theoretical and boring academic thesis, which are devoid of applicability to the real world.

Leadership is a very personal journey. To be a good leader you must be willing to truthfully look at yourself and understand yourself. You can’t lead others until you can honestly lead yourself. My passion and fascination about leadership has been formed by my:
• 35 years in the profession, with 24 years as a city manager.
• Nontraditional research on the topic of leadership.
• Development of a leadership program to train, coach, and mentor young professionals, as well as inmates in the county jail.

This is the introduction to a series of six practical articles about leadership, each with specific action steps you can take to become a leader or significantly improve your leadership skill set. I will cover topics that most of you haven’t encountered in articles about leadership. Are you courageous enough to be a leader and make the world a bit better?

Overview of the Leadership Articles to Follow:

Session 1: What Is Leadership? Who Are Effective Leaders? Myths about Leadership.

We will explore different types of leadership, including leadership with and without organizational authority. We will also bust some leadership myths. What is one of your leadership myths?

Session 2: Leaders Know Themselves Well.

Leaders know and can articulate their strengths, weaknesses, and fears. If you don’t know your weaknesses, faults, and the dark side of your personality, you will fail as a leader. I will recommend some novel and enlightening assessment instruments that will help you more fully know yourself. Do you know how the dark side (which we all have) of your personality affects you?

Session 3: Leadership Is a Series of Paradoxes.

Leadership is an art, not a science, and is riddled with paradoxes. Leaders understand these paradoxes and which ones cause them trouble. Do you know some of the leadership paradoxes and which ones will trip you up? Leaders can modify their behavior without compromising their integrity. Even successful leaders struggle with 20 percent of the most important traits of a leader. How is that possible? How do they deal with that?

Session 4: Leaders Acknowledge Their Fears with Courage.

We all have fears. If you cannot identify your fears, then they will manipulate you in negative ways. All leaders have fears, but they also have the courage to face their fears and act in spite of them. Do you know your fears and which ones paralyze you?

Session 5: Leaders Are Grounded and Passionate.

Great leaders are grounded in values, core principles, integrity, and confidence. All leaders are deeply passionate about a few things. Can you clearly articulate your basic core values/principles? What are you truly passionate about?

Session 6: A Brief Summary and Some Takeaways.

I will discuss some additional suggestions to help you on your leadership journey. I will provide some non-academic book recommendations that are unique, motivating, and fun to read.

I hope you are intrigued enough to join me on a leadership journey. Great leaders mentor new leaders. Do you? Please share this article throughout your organization to encourage leadership. I pledge to coach anyone who wants to be a leader. Let’s do this and make good trouble.

 EDWARD EVERETT, ICMA-CM, is a consultant and former city manager, Redwood City, California, and a recipient of ICMA’s award for career excellence in 2007 (everetted@comcast.net).



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