Leadership (for the umpteenth time)

If we want to make this world a better place to live, it’s up to us, and not elected officials, to make it happen.

Leadership is the single characteristic of behavior that determines a person’s success as a professional. I can’t write about it enough.

Last month I recommended a book, A New Grand Strategy – Restoring America’s Prosperity, Security and Sustainability in the 21st Century. A singular theme evidenced throughout the book is the need for leadership within our communities. That means you and me, not some elected official or official “grandstander.” It means real people with real ideas and a commitment to make our communities stronger, healthier, and more livable.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about Conscious Capitalism, the four prime tenets of which also demand leadership from each of us:

  • Recognizing and fostering a sense of higher purpose in all that we do and the way we do it
  • Having a stakeholder orientation, engaging each and every stakeholder in whatever undertaking we are involved in to enhance the quality of the outcome
  • Being a conscious leader who is deeply aware of the higher purpose and stakeholder orientation of the endeavors you pursue, who makes the path you’re on visible every day, and who inspires others to follow that path
  • Creating and fostering a conscious culture, one in which your ethos – the values, principles, and practices – underlies the social fabric of your enterprise, supporting your higher purpose

Both A New Grand Strategy and the practice of Conscious Capitalism thrive on leadership from each of us. Reading through A New Grand Strategy tells the story well, starting with planning for walkable cities, where you can reach your daily needs – the grocery store, pharmacy, cobbler, barber shop/salon, dry cleaners, restaurants, and so forth – without driving. This demands a shift toward a more urban setting, which everyone from millennials to baby boomers are searching for. With the advent of autonomous vehicles rapidly approaching, you’ll be able to get from point A to point B – that distance that is just a bit farther than you feel like walking right now – by accessing one from your cell phone. You won’t have to own the vehicle, service it, or insure it.

A lot of parking structures may become redundant. Designed properly, we can convert those structures to hydroponic gardens and provide the produce you shop for right there in the neighborhood where you live, irrigated by recycled water that doesn’t go all the way to the remote sewage treatment plant but is reused to irrigate urban farms, landscaping, and to flush toilets. What about power? Solar panels on top of your new urban settings, fed into a micro-grid, will light the LED lamps used to grow your produce indoors and for a lot of other power needs.

But how will any of this be done? Won’t cities have to rewrite their planning codes? Won’t the local utilities – water, power, and waste – have to rethink and retool their approach to how they build, own, operate, and charge for their services? Of course they will. And here’s where the demand for leadership comes in. In cities around the world today, groups of people are coming together to form a leadership consortium to design, codify, and do the leg work to shine the light on a future that costs less, works better, is more sustainable, and makes places that people are happier in and where they can find more joy in their lives. Then comes the hard work of leadership – convincing governing bodies to build these ideas into planning and building codes to become “the way our city is going to be,” not just another study that sits on a shelf.

All this takes active leadership from the community outside of government. Participants may be architects, planners, developers, and attorneys that take an interest in the physical aspects of the city. A big part of the leadership role is bringing elected officials and staff into the discussions. This is not about handing them a fait accompli, but rather engaging them deeply in the conversation in a way that honors and acknowledges their thoughts and ideas. Everyone should feel his or her voice is being heard. And this must remain non-political. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about coming to a strong consensus among all stakeholders that the direction being taken is not only good but consistently supported by the community.

Finally, leadership is about follow-through. Once you’ve started taking your community in a new and more productive direction, your job has just begun. Many staff and elected or appointed officials in most communities suffer from inertia. They’re concerned that if they take a direction on something, they’ll be shot down or pushed aside. Displaying leadership requires courage, entrepreneurial energy, and the deep belief that you’re doing the right thing.

My advice? Get out there and start leading.

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with Zweig Group and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at efriedrichs@zweiggroup.com.