A Vision for Bellevue, Part 1:Visionary Leadership, by Mark Robinson

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This is the second post of a “A Vision for Bellevue” series. To read the first post, click here.

Every time we turn around we hear people talking about leadership. We hear it from both sides of the political spectrum, we hear about it in the world of business, and we hear about it in communities. But what does that really mean? Too often, when someone that we disagree with generates an idea that we absolutely can’t stand we scream “They are a terrible leader!” But that statement isn’t true. Leadership isn’t about what ideas they come up with up. Leadership is about courage, the ability to bring people together, overcoming adversity, and ensuring that whatever is being led is kept on track and moving forward.

In my experience in management, where I have been responsible for budgets worth hundreds of millions of dollars to buy materials that support the manufacturing of medical devices which help people live happier and healthier lives, all the way down to ensuring the right selection of office supplies is available for everyone or that the burned out light bulbs in a small office are all replaced in timely manner, I have always had one common thread and style by which I managed.  I have always told the people that work for me that I am not there to tell them what to do, I am here to hire them and put them in a position because they are the expert in that particular area.  I do this, and I trust them to guide their area of responsibility and to do what is right in support of the broader vision that has been set. I understand that I cannot do it all by myself and that we all must come together to achieve our common goals, and in that…we find success.

As I mentioned in the opening blog, which introduced the series “A Vision for Bellevue”, I said I would talk about what that group of Bellevue leaders talked about back in 2008.

When it came to leadership, this is what they said:

No negativity allowed.
Leaders should have an open mind.
Decrease dependence on tax increases.
Become more active in the PA State Association of Boroughs
Invest in your employees
More communication by borough officials and the public to encourage change
Find grant $
Leadership is aligned, excited, and sets a standard for excellence
Not afraid to fail
Celebrate diversity
Motivate employees
Cooperate with other communities
Inter-department work plan
Encourage the public to get involved in the changes and be a part of it
Look at other communities and come up with a statement about why Bellevue is unique
Seek advice from other flourishing communities
Applaud accomplishments
Lower taxes
Meld the government, businesses and schools together to develop community pride.

Wow…that was a long list of things they talked about. I agree with everything they said and want to discuss a couple of what I believe are the most important.

Qualities of a leader that must be in place in order to effect good leadership are: An open mind, investing in your employees (this includes residents and volunteers), being willing to cooperate, and most importantly, someone who is not afraid to fail and who actively takes risks in the pursuit of a more positive impact. A leader should be one who grasps the mission and direction they have set for the community, ensures all actions taken are in line with that and makes those who are involved take ownership of their part of that mission.

This is why the elections that are coming up are absolutely critical when it comes to developing a plan for the future of Bellevue and staying the course in order to achieve success. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it is easy to see how our council and committee meetings get off track.  It is imperative that the agenda drives purposeful communication amongst our council members. We have seen two different sides of this. One where agenda items blow up and we hear a lot of “I didn’t know about that!!” or “That’s not what you told me before!” type of statements, and on the other hand, we have seen last minute motions being made that weren’t on the agenda and are quite controversial.  Either way, they all need to be on the same page. Put the politics behind you and engage in meaningful discussion which begins at the committee meetings and be aware of all actions that are taking place on the agenda and educate yourselves before showing up at the meeting. When you decide you want to be an elected official you are also taking responsibility to be an effective and prepared member of council as well. Your role is to not just show up at the three meetings a month and expect to govern the town in a positive way. Putting yourself on the ballot is a way of saying, “I want to be a community leader.” The tricky part of that is, if you are elected….you actually have to be one!

With that said, what would I do as a community leader to assist in this? Here it is:

  1. Ensure that morale of the borough employees is kept high. Execute this plan for the future and tell them you need their help to make it happen. Give them some ownership of the role that they are expected to do. Keeping morale high is the number one way of attracting and retaining the best employees! Ensure that the people in management positions within that team are also good leaders starting with the Director of Administrative Services. We are about to hire a new one, make sure they understand this aspect of their role and make it an expectation that all borough managers meet with one another on a regular basis to present the work their team has accomplished towards the vision.
  2. With more engaged employees comes consistent and quality work (especially when communicating with the council members). This is an absolute must for those council members that never seem to know exactly what they are voting on. Decide on 1….ONE standard method of communication for all materials that are distributed to the council members. We can’t have each council person picking and choosing their preferred method. Keep it simple and keep it electronic (it’s green and cuts down on cost) and is easy to track who received information. While your at it, make sure there is a public copy made available at least 2-3 days before a meeting takes place. This not only gives the council members time to look it over and give each other a call if they have questions but it gives your residents confidence that the borough is being run by competent people who are making information available to them instead of making them try to hunt it down.
  3. Every council committee meeting should measure the work that is being done against the accomplishment of the mission. This is the barometer that tells everyone…including the community if we are on track. I know some people will say that we have to maintain specific services and that we can’t change those….of course you can’t…incorporate them as part of the mission. For example…if one of the objectives this year is to ensure some badly needed road repairs are required, that’s great. Report on that progress in your committee meetings and tie it to the mission as one of the things that will help accomplish part of the greater vision such as, road maintenance being one of things we are working on towards achieving our goals in public safety awareness or community planning.
  4. BE TRANSPARENT!! Your vision and all of the things that make it up should be communicated to the public. And not just communicated, they should be made available to the public whenever they want to see them.  Picture this…on the borough website we have a page for the vision. On that page we see each section of the vision and what this year’s action items are. Put a big thermometer next to each one (you know like the ones you see on a telethon!) and every time you complete one of the action items, the thermometer slowly fills up. Wouldn’t it be great to show the tax payers how the money is being used and what is actually being accomplished?!?!?

So community leaders….you are role models for the community! You have a staff of well trained employees working for the borough! Trust them to do their job!! Listen to them!! If a leader doesn’t listen to those they are leading then they are bound to fail. A leader will sometimes make mistakes when taking risks. A great leader will admit to them and learn from it. Leadership is not standing on a pedestal and shouting orders down to those below you. It is empowering those that you have given the responsibility with running the borough activity to actually run the daily activites of the borough. This is why it is so important to ensure that our new Director of Administrative Services be allowed to conduct the business of the borough, while reporting back to the council, and manage it the way they see fit. They are, after all, an expert at running boroughs; this is why you hired them! There is not a single current council person or candidate that has been a DAS before.

One of the other things that the team mentioned back in 2008 said “Seek advice from other flourishing communities” and then use those as part of your road map to success (that last part was mine!). Being a leader doesn’t mean that you have to come up with the ideas on your own; it means that you should utilize the resources and opportunities you have to learn from others’ successes and failures. You know what makes taking risks so much fun?!?  It’s that, I can guarantee that someone has already taken the risk that you are thinking about and proved its success or failure!! One caution…a single example of failure doesn’t mean that a risk shouldn’t be taken, it means you haven’t looked hard enough to find out where they went wrong and learned how to avoid those same mistakes.

So now I ask the community….If you were a community leader…what are your thoughts on leadership? What would you do from a management perspective to help accomplish the goal of having solid leadership in place in Bellevue? Keep it civil, and remember ..there are no stupid ideas!!

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5 Responses to “A Vision for Bellevue, Part 1:Visionary Leadership, by Mark Robinson”

  1. A funny story about the perception of leadership on our current borough council. I think it’s important as a leader to constantly be learning and sharpening your skills. As President I would send out articles to the dept. heads and council members about once a month to keep us growing in the latest leadership literature and on the same page….One night I pulled into the borough for a meeting, only to be met by one of our council members shaking these articles in my face saying, “Quit sending us your leadership stuff—We are NOT leaders! I don’t care about this. All I care about are the numbers.” It may behoove more of our elected officials to go to the Local Government Academy’s newly elected officials course and discover what our role really is. It may be enlightening—

  2. Hi Kathy, Thanks for taking the time to read the blog. I am really excited about this series. While I think it is important for residents to understand the mindsets of our leaders, I do, with all due respect, want to ensure that we aren’t pointing fingers at each other in these comments 🙂 I do agree however, that our council people are leaders and your suggestion about the Local Government Academy course sounds interesting. I will check that out and what it entails. Thanks for the suggestion!!

  3. Mark…I totally agree. My story was not to point fingers, but to bring to light, that in order to work toward good “leadership” all who step up need to realize their role as “leader” in the community and what it entails.I would love to see more people engage in educating themselves in what local government should be, not what it’s “always been.” LGA not only has a myriad of classes for elected officials but citizens as well.I believe by doing this is puts all partisanship aside and focuses on the betterment of the community based on principles of good government.

  4. “Meld the government, businesses and schools together to develop community pride” NO Thank You! Government was never designed or meant to be in the education business. Education is best directed by parents, community and private business. The Common Core is just another expansion of Government into our lives. If you get the children’s views when they are young; there is a captive controlled predictable audience as they become adults. Look at how Germany fell for Hitler’s agenda, he educated kids from the cradle. Children were turning in their parents for not following the party line. Government in the Education business is a dangerous thing.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Vision for Bellevue, Part 2: Business District Re-Vision-alization, by Mark Robinson | Liberty in Bellevue, PA - May 7, 2013

    […] This is the third post in a series of posts by Mark Robinson titled, “A Vision for Bellevue.” To see the first post in the series, “Introduction,” click here. To see the second post in the series, “Leadership,” click here. […]

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