Authentic Leadership

March 3, 2009

Leadership has never been more important than it is today. Whether you are a political, business, non-profit or faith-based leader the pressure is on and failure is not an option. You’ve heard it said that it is lonely at the top…well for many it is even lonelier now.

Leaders are always confronted with challenges and must often make difficult decisions, however; during times of strong economic growth, leaders can make many mistakes and still get bailed out by the market. In difficult times, as we are now experiencing, each mistake becomes magnified and leaders get scrutinized under white-hot lights. Unfortunately, some in leadership positions who happily took credit for successes in good times are playing the blame game now that fortunes have turned. In some cases, managers (those who manage process) have been given lofty titles that indicate leadership, but have never been properly prepared to lead. When the process no longer works as designed, failure lurks.

We cannot merely assume that one with the appropriate title is the most effective leader. As John C. Maxwell so eloquently stated in his The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “the true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” Real influence can be best achieved by practicing authentic leadership. Authentic leaders impact and influence others by casting a bold vision, by surrounding themselves with capable independent thinkers, by preparing future leaders and by living a life of sacrifice. Authentic leaders are not preoccupied with perks, status and golden parachutes. Sure, pretenders come and go…and make headlines in the process, but they do go.

There has never been a more appropriate time to exercise authentic leadership. People want to be a part of a movement greater than themselves. Every organization needs a strong leader…one leading a movement to achieve greatness. What is your bold vision? Who do you need on your team? Who are your mentors? Are you grooming the next generation of leaders? Will your followers follow you in times of sacrifice and want? It will take authentic leadership to move our economy and nation forward. I’m placing my bet that authentic leadership will show up.


Your Community: Survive or Thrive? There is a Choice.

February 3, 2009

The news is bleak: state and local budget cuts, increased unemployment, decreasing property values and tax receipts. The overall mood in your community has changed. Perhaps your community was booming; the local college or university was growing, business activity was up and real estate development was hot. Or, perhaps your community was just about to join in on the economic boom; infrastructure plans were ready, developers were scouting, and community optimism was at a high…just before the collapse.

Now what? Retrench? Wait this thing out? Sure, you can simply wait to deploy your plan. The economy will turn around sooner or later, won’t it? One thing though, it won’t be the same economy so your existing plan will probably not produce desired results. Everything has changed.

Some argue that the US (and indeed, world) economy is experiencing “destruction” versus “contraction” as defined by a recession. Consider the recent changes in banking, which is the circulatory system of our economy. The entire financial landscape is in transition from destruction to re-design, re-build and re-emerge (We are in the latter stages of the destruction phase). This is significant for anyone interested in retaining or creating jobs. Large projects with significant capital investment and appetite for labor are off the table, at least for now.

“Okay”, you say… “We get it.” “How can we adjust our plans and be proactive in this new environment?”

Please take a moment to examine the following:

1. How is your economic development staff being deployed? How much time is devoted to assisting and nurturing existing businesses and local start-ups vs. recruiting? Most new job creation opportunities and ALL existing job retention opportunities are located in your community today. I’m not suggesting that you abandon recruiting, only that you review your resource allocation.

2. How are you marketing? You probably have a website that focuses on your wonderful quality of life. Why wouldn’t everyone want to live here, right? It’s probably true, but unfortunately, it is irrelevant if companies are in no mood to move and your existing business owners already “get it”. Try offering information that will be of value to your existing businesses such as: an online business forum, guest blogs, how to negotiate local beaurocrocies, a talent/job board, local executive biographies and profiles, service provider network, etc. You may discover that prospects will be even more impressed by your vibrant and engaged business community than your new streetscape project.

3. Who is engaged? Your economic development and/or chamber of commerce professionals are paid to be engaged in community and economic development. Many do an outstanding job; however, real success can only be achieved by engaging “champions” to develop, lead or support critical programs or initiatives that make your community more competitive. Do you have support committees leading the charge for improvements in education, talent development and recruitment, public infrastructure, technology, start-up support/angel investing? (Note: I do not recommend meetings for meeting’s sake, aimless brainstorming, or trying to figure out the next big thing. If you want capable individuals to participate, please understand that, by nature, they lead busy lives. They are interested in execution and results.)

4. What are your existing assets? Even though I have seen the film, “Field of Dreams”, many times, I am not a big believer in the If You Build It, They Will Come model of economic development. Sure, you’ll want a minimum inventory of available sites and buildings in order to get prospect visits, but I challenge you to look around your community. You may find: businesses with growth potential, entrepreneurs with great ideas, retirees with knowledge, experience and wisdom, trained workers and available capital. It will take less time and resources to grow your base than to recruit a new one.

In short; involve champions and create an economic movement within your community. Seize control of your common destiny and capitalize on your existing assets. Before long, prospects will want to be a part of your movement.