New city lead­er­ship calls for new ap­proach

Words of ad­vice as mayor, coun­cil­lors are sworn in

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - BRIAN DESBIENS Brian Desbiens is past pres­i­dent of Flem­ing Col­lege. His col­umn ap­pears monthly.

The peo­ple have spo­ken and we have new lead­er­ship in our com­mu­nity af­ter our re­cent mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion. In fact, it was a very de­ci­sive vic­tory and ex­pres­sion for change.

Let me be­gin by thank­ing Mayor Daryl Ben­nett for his lead­er­ship over the past eight years. He and his fam­ily have made sac­ri­fices for him to com­mit to mak­ing his con­tri­bu­tion to our com­mu­nity. We should al­ways be grate­ful to those will­ing to step for­ward and lead.

Con­grat­u­la­tion to our new mayor, Diane Ther­rien, for her great vic­tory and win­ning the op­por­tu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence.

So what do we know about lead­er­ship that was at play? First is that there is a time a per­son is given and a time to leave. It is also very dif­fi­cult in the po­lit­i­cal arena to have more than two terms. In our democ­racy the cit­i­zens get to de­cide and they have.

As I have watched mu­nic­i­pal, provin­cial and fed­eral lead­ers come and go I have a few ob­ser­va­tions and sug­ges­tions for the new mayor.

First off, en­joy the hon­ey­moon pe­riod and use it wisely, it is usu­ally very short. You had an en­er­gized team help you get elected but she now you are the mayor for all the peo­ple. So reach­ing out to all mem­bers of coun­cil and the com­mu­nity is crit­i­cal. You are our leader and we de­pend on you.

A good start would be to form a team ap­proach with your fel­low mem­bers of coun­cil. Pre­vi­ous may­ors have held a plan­ning ses­sion/re­treat just af­ter be­ing elected to bring the coun­cil to­gether. Given that there are some new mem­bers and old this is ad­vised. You all have been through a com­pet­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence and now must come to­gether.

All elected coun­cil mem­bers rep­re­sent not just the wards that elected them but now have to act on coun­cil for the ben­e­fit of the whole com­mu­nity. The mayor will only suc­ceed if the coun­cil is ef­fec­tive and not di­vided.

Most or­ga­ni­za­tions that I coach with new lead­ers have to es­tab­lish team norms and high level goals as they be­gin their terms of of­fice. By this I mean what are the values prin­ci­ples and tasks that they want to char­ac­ter­ize their ap­proach to lead­er­ship.

The prac­tice of hav­ing such a ses­sion prior to tak­ing of­fice has been dropped in re­cent years in Peter­bor­ough. In speak­ing to ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers of coun­cil they said this made a dif­fer­ence and not for the bet­ter.

Such a meet­ing needs to be fa­cil­i­tated by a neu­tral party (we have many won­der­fully com­pe­tent fa­cil­i­ta­tors re­sid­ing in our com­mu­nity).

The pur­pose of such a plan­ning ses­sion should be: to get to know one an­other; To build work­ing re­la­tions; to share what are their hopes and as­pi­ra­tions for next four years: To set 3-5 high-level crit­i­cal goals that they want to ac­com­plish in next four years; And to build the com­mon ground on which coun­cil will work with one an­other and solve the com­plex chal­lenges they are most cer­tain to face. It is through this team build­ing and con­sen­sus plan­ning that re­spect, ap­pre­ci­a­tion and fo­cus on out­comes can be formed.

The sec­ond ob­ser­va­tion I would make is that those who said they want change may change their minds if the sug­gested change af­fects them. A cou­ple of lessons to learn here. One is that early on there may be some com­mon ground among coun­cilors and the changes and de­ci­sions will be easy.

This is al­ways a great way to start. Later on how­ever, there will be dif­fi­cult ones that di­vide the coun­cil and com­mu­nity. It is how the mayor and coun­cil han­dle these con­tentious is­sues that will de­ter­mine their suc­cess.

If there is an in­clu­sive, con­struc­tive prob­lem solv­ing, trans­par­ent and re­spect­ful process peo­ple can ac­cept not get­ting their way. In the past I be­lieve coun­cil mem­bers have been too quick to come to con­clu­sions then spend time de­fend­ing their orig­i­nal po­si­tion rather than re­main­ing open to new in­for­ma­tion be­fore de­cid­ing. It al­ways amazes me that con­sul­tants and staff are asked to study an is­sue but coun­cil mem­bers de­cide their po­si­tions be­fore the ev­i­dence and op­tions are ex­plored thor­oughly. So it is crit­i­cal that the mayor es­tab­lish these prin­ci­ples early on.

A third ob­ser­va­tion I would make is for the com­mu­nity. Eight years ago the com­mu­nity se­lected a mayor with pri­mar­ily a busi­ness back­ground and he brought his ex­pe­ri­ence from that sphere to our city prac­tices.

The new mayor has a dif­fer­ent back­ground. She is our leader and needs all of our sup­port. She will bring strengths from her life and com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ence but no leader has all the ex­per­tise and knowl­edge needed. The wise leader knows this and will reach out to those with dif­fer­ing views and com­pe­ten­cies.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how she reaches out, cre­ates lead­er­ship roles for other coun­cil mem­bers, and draws on the wealth of ex­per­tise from our com­mu­nity.

There are many chal­lenges ahead. Change brings ex­cite­ment and en­ergy. Fo­cus­ing on what is needed is crit­i­cal es­pe­cially in a lim­ited re­source en­vi­ron­ment. De­vel­op­ing a dy­namic plan of ac­tion is es­sen­tial. Bring­ing the com­mu­nity to­gether for the ben­e­fit of all is de­sir­able. First steps make a dif­fer­ence. Let us all wish and sup­port our new mayor and coun­cil.


Mayor-elect Diane Ther­rien cel­e­brates with her sup­port­ers on Oct. 22 iat Show­place in Peter­bor­ough.

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