New city leadership calls for new approach
Words of advice as mayor, councillors are sworn in
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.