“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” — John Kenneth Galbraith
Criticism of leadership abounds in political circles. It’s as common as calling out the hockey coach from the safety of the living room couch.
And often it is simply partisan muckraking. An obvious disguise, however vague, over the assertion “my candidate is better than yours.”
In the worst cases, it is not thought out. It is a thin veneer for sour grapes. A negative attitude because “I didn’t get my way.”
But such criticism does raise a very important question for the citizen – what is quality leadership? What should I be looking for?
Fortunately, leadership is studied by scholars. In the very interesting book “Leadership in Turbulent Times” the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reviews case studies of leadership in different forms: transformative, turnaround, visionary, and crisis-orientated (as of recent, Strathcona County is no stranger to the last variety).
Warren Bennis is credited as the dean of the discipline in leadership studies. It was fortuitous for me a few years back to attend his course where he outlined six required competencies.
It is fair game for a leader to be evaluated on these capabilities. Consider using this as a checklist to judge current and prospective leaders.
- Mission. Leaders must create a clear focus.
In Strathcona County, council unanimously revised and adopted the vision to becoming Canada’s most livable community; complete with strategic imperatives including inclusion, sustainable municipal infrastructure, and economic diversity. Further, unlike most municipalities, our imperatives are prioritized.
I believe we need to lead with best-in-class municipal services (fire, policing, transit, roads, water, social supports, recreation and culture, etc.); supporting business development to improve our quality of life; empowering non-profits for social advancement; championing fiscal responsibility, and practicing evidence-based decision making.
- Engagement. Phenomenal citizen engagement rates in our county including more than 87 per cent recommending our community as a place to live are an impressive barometer of success.
- Agile culture. We have hired a chief administrative officer whose duties include improving staff engagement, boosting citizen and business satisfaction, and innovating organizational development.
- Trust. Does the leader have integrity?
- Develop leaders. Is the leader not placing themselves above others?
- Getting results. To be competent, leaders must get it done.
- Passed a 10-year Master Transit Plan,
- Implemented governance over the Beaver Hills Biosphere,
- Passed a 12-year recreation strategy,
- Overseen a first-ever tourism strategy,
- Landed $4 billion in investment for jobs, and targeted more than $26 billion more,
- Empowered social service non-profits with $1 million annually,
- Cut taxes by 1.35 per cent over four years,
- Overseen persons crime reduction by 14.77 per cent,
- Invested in rural services: broadband initiative, water-fill, additional $3 million for roadwork, agriculture facility, spray/skate park,
- Action-ed a field house with off-ramps to address risks, and,
- Under priority-based budgeting increased value by $30.4 million, to be amongst the top 10 of more than 250 communities across North America.
Anxiety, COVID, and crisis
The clear imperative of our times has been leading through crisis.
After the Nov. 6, 2018 explosions, an independent report found success in ensuring safety in a highly complex and unique event, with loss of life limited to one fatality, and providing seamless service. Council unanimously implemented learnings on training and connections between RCMP K Division and the county.
On the pandemic, council has led by facing issues and acting.
- Public health protection, while opening the economy: We have not politicized health questions and have led in offering safe services, transitioned our workforce to home, increased mental health supports, and moved to safely reopen.
- Responsible economic aid: Our citizens and businesses have been hit with a triple whammy: recession, depressed energy markets and COVID-19. To lighten the load, we have offered tax and utility deferral options, and in 2020 rolled back any tax increases.
- Timely communication: We have prioritized relevant information sharing through direct alerts, social media, print ads, signs, virtual town halls, Facebook live events, videos and (physically distanced) community visits. In a recent survey, less than 12 per cent of respondents were not satisfied with the quality of our communications.
- Taskforces for the future: Citizens rightly expect more from local government than reacting to the day-to-day. We are reaching out to the public and experts to learn and take advantage of future opportunities to emerge stronger from the pandemic.
It remains my honour and privilege to serve as your mayor and to be on council. As always, continue to provide your input. Our best ideas come from our citizens and I always look forward to hearing from you.
This column was written by Mayor Rod Frank. The views expressed are his own. Follow Mayor Frank on Twitter @RodFrank12, Facebook at Rod Frank, LinkedIn @rfrank.ca. He can be reached at 780-464-8000 or email@example.com.