Good local government leaders are always in high demand. They inspire communities, changing lives for the better. What are these folks made of? Effective leaders — in public works, community development, zoning, you name it — do have certain traits, habits, and values in common. Let's take a look, and see what we can learn from them.
1. The Bedrock Principle: Integrity
A leader with integrity has the basis of all other leadership principles. And one of the remarkable aspects of principled leadership is the way employees and colleagues follow suit. Employees, contractors, and even constituents are far less likely to engage in questionable conduct if the “tone at the top” is conscientious.
- The leader follows local policies with care, earning the public’s trust in our government.
- The leader cannot be influenced inappropriately — and makes this obvious.
Integrity-based leadership has a system for communicating ethical standards and expectations to others. Because of this, the staffer who could take advantage of a situation for personal benefit stops...consciously remembers those communications...and does the right thing.
2. Getting Communities Behind the Decisions
As a community leader, you might ask yourself: Am I continually cultivating connections among agencies to advocate for those I represent? Do those I represent have easy-to-use input mechanisms? It starts with listening to voices in the community.
A good local government leader invites contributions from a range of perspectives, including from marginalized groups. Different groups have different needs and burdens. Good leaders understand this, adjust, and commit to elevating everyone’s quality of life.
Exceptional leaders know they can always learn more about communication and conflict-resolution methods. They keep abreast of new technologies, so they can offer attractive, accessible means of discussion between people and their local government leaders.
3. Constantly Cultivating an Inclusive Workspace
Government leaders must be role models of inclusivity.
A commitment to inclusion means:
- The leader knows and implements best practices in inclusive hiring.
- The leader forges links with cultural support systems for staff members.
- The leader takes inclusion seriously, addressing common gender, race, disability, age, and cultural biases.
4. Building a High-Spirited, Highly Competent Team
A key talent shared by outstanding local leaders is the ability to rally the team.
Good leaders are forever gaining knowledge and skills for themselves, and great leaders offer similar opportunities for staffers. These are the leaders who have the self-confidence to appreciate the talents of others and celebrate others' advancement as well as their own.
Overall, excellence in government leadership flourishes where mutually supportive interactions are normal. This can sound idealistic, no doubt. Every day, there are ways to shift responsibilities and even take others down a notch. In contrast, principles inspire. Inspiration is the heart of good leadership.
5. Managing the Organization’s Strategic Plan
Big-picture planning needs a range of vision. A good leader draws from a range of viewpoints, knowing just when to lead, and when to follow others’ lead.
Good planning means staying focused on the organization’s social responsibility. It means dealing with the details too:
- It means knowing how to interpret performance and financial data.
- It means changing course when needed, explaining the change in advance to those impacted.
- It means instituting a protocol for crisis communication and data security.
- It means having a leadership succession plan in place.
The result? Everyone is on the same page. Everyone knows where the leadership is headed. The context? An organization that stays cost-efficient and improves its constituents’ quality of life.
6. Creating Excellent Communication Systems
It takes a clued-in leader — one adept at the skills of both listening and informing — to know when to engage and when to allow space.
It takes poise to listen and understand while presenting in emotionally charged circumstances.
It takes awareness of others' perceptions to explain policy in a nontechnical way.
Communication know-how also involves making sure the staff can appropriately and effectively use traditional and electronic media. And then they use it. After all, good government leadership values transparency. It shares data with constituents, other communities, and other agencies.
A Final Word
Rarely does a leader get a total buy-in. People are unique. Consensus is often elusive.
Effective leadership keeps the lines of communication open anyway. It finds the common ground. And in the long run, the most valuable public leaders are the ones bringing competing interests together to reach a shared goal.