To observe that we are living through a time of extraordinary challenges is an understatement, for sure. Who would have suggested last December that 2020 would witness such major upheavals? My intent is not to recount the many challenges we’ve faced, but to offer perspective on the dimensions of leadership that can sustain and help us carry on as best we can in the year to come.
The nearly year-long impact of COVID-19 has certainly changed the way we go about our lives. But the City of Peoria, like neighboring city governments, doesn’t have the option of working from home in most cases. Police officers and firefighters, public works and community development personnel, and others in the legal, finance and clerk’s offices must do their jobs amid all the uncertainties and dangers lurking in an unseen virus. They have carried on in a most professional and, yes, heroic manner.
The Peoria City Council and other elected offices have provided guidance and leadership, even with the constraints of physical distancing, face masks, sanitizing protocols and the like. With all of the challenges and anxieties of our current environment, we’ve accomplished and upheld the trust given us by our residents. From my perspective as mayor, I’d offer the following seven key dimensions of effective leadership, which I define as the ability to influence other people toward the accomplishment of organizational goals (in this case, the City of Peoria).
- First and foremost, I find the best leadership is faith-based. By “faith,” I mean a moral compass and value system founded in the belief of the dignity of each individual. I have seen this at work in both the private and public sectors. In order to influence and accomplish, there must be respect, openness and patience.
- Secondly, truly effective leaders must always “walk the deck of the ship.” In the case of city governance, that means knowing the neighborhoods from the sidewalks, alleys and streets. It means visiting with employees where they are as they pursue their responsibilities. It means walking in the small business owner’s shoes. It means a willingness to be accessible.
- Third, one must consistently serve as a mentor, coach and teacher. All great leaders had help along the way—you can’t do it alone. That means family members giving advice and perspective at times. It involves sharing your experiences with associates on the City Council and City employees, listening to their thoughts and advice, and incorporating them into actions.
- The fourth key to successful leadership is trust. My experience as mayor for the past 15 years has been that trust in others begets trust in you. Trust is earned and demonstrated; it is certainly not mandated.
- Fifth is mental and physical fitness. I have observed that the best leaders—especially with the daily demands of city government—possess and exhibit mental and physical courage and stamina, which lead directly to good decision-making.
- The sixth leadership trait I’ve observed in effective local government (and business, for that matter) is perseverance. Perseverance is commitment, conviction and dedication, with a dose of humility. You don’t always accomplish your goal on the first try; think about the dynamics of the city budgeting process, for example, or gaining approval and buy-in for economic development initiatives.
- Finally, enthusiasm and passion for every opportunity at hand defines success. Enthusiasm is contagious and, in my experience, helps drive top performance. Having an attitude of “Yes we can” is a solid foundation for leadership, influencing others toward the achievement of our common goals.
In May of next year, I will turn over the gavel to a new mayor. It has been my great privilege to have done my best to provide steady leadership in this role. These seven observations, based on my experiences, just might be a benefit to whoever occupies that chair. And perhaps they will be helpful to Peoria voters as they assess who is best qualified to lead our great city forward.
In closing, I thank Peoria Magazine for this opportunity to review matters of local government, and I commend the Women of Influence who are highlighted herein. As the holiday season is fast approaching, I ask God’s continued blessings on our community. We have much to be thankful for. PM