With the upcoming municipal elections, we may hear candidates use slogans such as, “New Leadership for a Brighter Future” or “ProvenLeadership.” The implication of the first slogan is that if things do not change—if the incumbent is re-elected—a prosperous future is at stake. The latter slogan implies that if a candidate with years of public service loses, a prosperous future is at stake as well. While either extreme very well may be the case in your community, it is important to move past the slogan and focus more on substance, and how well those who either seek office or re-election function in what is known as a “collaborative leadership” role.
The reality we find in our cities and towns is that premier municipal services, which are provided by cities on a round-the-clock basis, are crucial to the economic prosperity of all Georgians, and rely on effective collaborative leadership to be successful. In order for cities to thrive and create a long-term sustainable economic environment, they must make the right investments in water and sewer infrastructure, transportation systems, economic and downtown development projects, parks and recreation facilities, public safety and other capital needs. The most successful elected officials understand and recognize that it is vital to collaborate with senior city employees and their fellow city council members before making such critical decisions and charting a course that will impact the future of the city.
The key for us to continue to move forward in our respective cities, even with the uncertainty that comes with the election of new city officials, is to understand that rather than a top-down approach to governing, a collaborative environment is essential. As Frieda K. Edgette recently wrote for Governing
Collaborative leadership is the ability to inspire and bring about collective action across diverse stakeholder groups to achieve a shared goal. These leaders consciously engage people, departments and systems outside their immediate control.
If you attended GMA’s Annual Convention in June, you saw numerous examples of successful collaboration, where city leaders have successfully engaged people and groups from across their communities. Partnerships between Thomasville and the Thomasville Center for the Arts has led to creative redevelopment and a growing economy based on the arts and other creative endeavors, and in Cedartown, the city has collaborated with the technical school and local businesses to create opportunities for small business development.
In my own city of Johns Creek, we are currently working with city council, city staff, our local community, and an outside urban design firm to create a plan for our own downtown sense of place and identity we call The District. Our goal is to leverage the best of leadership in all sectors to better create the economic engine that will sustain our city for generations to come.
From dealing with poverty and increased gang violence to making transportation and water/sewer infrastructure investments to creating effective land-use plans, city officials are making critical decisions that will impact not just their community, but also the long-term health and economic viability of our state. The only way we can possibly address these issues, however, is through a belief and commitment to collaborative leadership.
Mike Bodker is the mayor of Johns Creek.