Public Leadership

It is difficult to do this well, as we see in the management of the Parkway over many years, but this article from Governing Magazine offers some great advice.

An excerpt.

Twenty-five years ago, as I was growing interested in how cities produce leaders and leaders shape cities, I heard a state business association president define leadership. A leader, he said, “is someone who helps people get where they want to go.”

He was speaking to a community leadership class, and I could sense the audience deflate. That’s it? Help people go somewhere? Like a bus driver? What about organizing constituencies, offering a vision and persuading the public? What about standing up for people — or standing up to the powerful? What about holding office?

And, yet, I had to admit he was on to something. Organization and persuasion are skills. Visions can be supplied by others. Standing up to the powerful and holding office are roles. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that helping people get where they want to go (and, one hopes, need to go) isn’t a bad definition of what leaders do. It’s just … incomplete.

So allow me to complete the definition. A leader is someone who helps people get where they want to go … by seeing the opportunity for getting there.

Seeing the opportunity — the narrow, sometimes temporary passage through which change can happen — is the genius of leadership. And herding people through that passage is the practice of leadership. What the genius and the practice require is a sense of how things fit together, a tactical vision, a willingness to learn from experience and a saintly patience with people — but a patience that’s bounded by the resolve to do something meaningful.

If this sounds abstract, trust me; there are examples all around you. Here in Atlanta, I’ve seen these traits in people who nurtured projects great and small, from the creation of the BeltLine, a circle of parks and trails that’s transforming entire neighborhoods, to the building of a roundabout that fixed an impossible intersection at the gates of Emory University and breathed life into a small retail district.

In both cases, the leader was someone who recognized the value of these projects, sized up the difficulties, figured out the path forward and patiently guided others along it.

Retrieved May 13, 2015 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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