A Great City needs a Great Leader

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More than once recently, Councillor Doug Ford has stated to the press that the position of mayor deserves more than one vote on city council, which proves yet again that the Ford brothers truly have no idea what it means to be mayor. Here’s a hint, Doug. The mayor is not a king, a dictator or a god. A mayor is the head of a council. That is all. A mayor certainly does not get to say “this is my office, I will do what I want.” The office of mayor belongs to the citizens of Toronto.

I would make this point regardless of who said it. It is not my goal to slag the Ford brothers yet again. But it is sad when any elected official suddenly forgets the democratic nature of City Hall and envisions it as his own fiefdom, inside of which any dissenting opinion is seen as insubordination and a personal affront. City Hall is no place for siege mentality. The impotent rage that seems to burn behind Councillor Ford’s eyes as he watches other people dare to contradict him speaks of much greater insecurities, of which I have already spoken. I hope both brothers each receive the help they so desperately and obviously need.

The role of mayor is to be a leader; someone who can create and communicate a vision for a productive, prosperous city, and who can then locate the people who are willing to invest their own particular talents to make this happen. A mayor exists to help a city run and grow; to help design it, with outcomes in mind. To be proactive – for example sourcing better alternatives to our current road system, rather than merely filling potholes.

This is on par with some of the great principles of leadership that can be found in well-run organizations in both the private and public sectors. When a true leader takes care to populate a room with intelligent, experienced people, people who will question, challenge, and work together, the result is synergy, born out of dignity. A true leader takes pride in not knowing all the answers, but instead in knowing where to find the answers. A leader identifies talent and also nurtures it, from within as well as from outside players.

OK, that all sounds nice and motivational, but what result does that have in the real world? Well, when a leader of a city – a mayor – recognizes that cities need smart growth in order to thrive, they look for the best ideas, rather than stubbornly insisting on sticking with one single idea. A leader looks to other cities – those that have already achieved successes in the areas of transit, high tech growth, jobs and people, to learn what worked well and what did not. Toronto rarely does this, and when we do, we do not do enough of it.

OK, back to the Fords for a moment. And remember, this isn’t slagging. Consider it a gentle critique of their leadership style. A true leader needs to win both the hearts and minds of the community. Not just one out of two. If, as a leader, your position is that you have saved taxpayers a large sum of money, then do everyone the favour of showing us exactly where and how this money was saved. Not with hazy examples and creative accounting but with clearly demonstrable, indisputable facts. That will impress a lot of people. If you have your heart set on building a subway, then lead the people by demonstrating just how well a subway will work for the community. How much will it truly cost? Are your numbers based on an optimistic consultant’s lowball estimates, or instead on well-documented case studies from here in Toronto as well as in comparable cities in the US or Europe?  If you are truly obsessed with saving taxpayers money, then explain just how saving money is better than investing money, if actual, continued citywide prosperity is the goal.

When a politician starts to believe his or her own hype, the future of the city, province or country that they represent disappears down a rabbit-hole. No person is capable of running everything and no person ever should.

Leadership means inspiring people to move forward with you, with trust, confidence and enthusiasm. Leadership requires humility and strong listening skills. Leadership requires a willingness to change and to move forward. Leadership is not about anger, stubbornness and paranoia. Leadership is not about “muscle spasms” substituting for sober second thought. Not in public service and not in the private sector. People who built successful companies know this. People who merely inherited them sometimes do not.

Toronto is the city that I love. I want to see it stand tall with other great cities of the world. Not just the largest cities, but the smartest, the nicest, the coolest. I want your help to achieve this, and I need the help of many good people to do it. Because that’s how cities and companies do best: not carried on the bent backs of its people, but rather on their shoulders.

My plan is available for your review at ariformayor.com/plan.

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