City Leadership for Today

"To continue to deliver on the expectations and aspirations of communities’ urban leaders need a new type of leadership."

Last week Katherine O'Regan of Cities Leadership Institute addressed the 18th International Cities, Town Centres & Communities (ICTC) Conference in Perth. Here is a summary of Katherine's presentation on leadership and cities.

Every community, every city contains complex ecosystems that constantly change.

While change in itself is not new, the pace, pervasiveness and penetrating breath of change is challenging traditional systems, processes and ways of doing things.

Conversations about how to deliver waste services more efficiently are being replaced with reviews of the value of different types of “waste” in the circular economy. There are diminishing discussions on the installation of parking metres and more on the predicative nature of data for the design and utilisation of mobility as a service.

Innovation and technology underpin many of these changes and challenges. It is shaping lives, lifestyles and workplaces, it is shifting social norms, and transforming the economy.

In this context of constant precipitous change city leaders are in the front line. They must manage increased urbanisation and the growing demands on already constrained resources. They must do more than adapt to the paradigm shift but work to keep ahead of the game.

To continue to deliver on the expectations and aspirations of communities’ urban leaders need a new type of leadership.

A leadership that recognises that the impact and importance of technology is not determined by an attraction to the latest smart shiny new ‘thing’. A leadership that instead has a confidence and capability centred on human competencies including creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation.

A leadership that replaces the traditional, hierarchical, transactional notions with an organisational structure that is flat, horizontal and cross discipled. A leadership that fosters a culture and attitude founded on collaboration, relationships and agility, and a leadership that establishes local government as an enabler and facilitator.

Turning first to collaboration. A collaborative leader not only recognises but embraces ideas and insights from multiple sources. They accept they do not have all the answers, knowledge and skills and instead, proactively seek others to co-design, co-deliver and co-decide. In practice this could mean empowering a dozen external experts from start-ups, businesses, not for profits and entrepreneurs to hack a city strategy – editing, deleting adding, raising questions and providing solutions live.

Closely associated with collaborative leadership is a leader that is relationship orientated. In the urban context the relationship between the city and the citizens is paramount and by using data cities can develop relationship with more citizens understanding and responding to what they do.

Monitoring and analysing qualitative and quantitative data enable the relationship leader to filter the loud voices reverberating in the echo chambers of social media or at the usual community meetings and balance these with real insights on services, streets and stress points to develop personalised solutions, manage assets and divert resources to areas of higher need. In essence, being smart with data means that urban leaders can form meaning relationships with many citizens and govern for the whole community.

Keeping ahead of change likewise demands agility, an ability to respond quickly, to be iterative and to integrate. Too often too many months are spent developing a business case, allocating budget and then delivering the project or programme.

An agile leader values responsiveness over reticence, learning over lagging and fortitude over failure. Leveraging pilots and trials they find local solutions to wicked problems that then can be modified, adapted and scaled.

Finally, and perhaps the most challenging is the leadership characteristic, enabling. Here the enabling leader shifts the city from a provider of services to a platform provider. The city becomes a ‘go to hub’ to access services that a third party delivers, the city is a trusted provider and referrer of information, a connector and has a focus on community capacity building rather than an internal capacity to do all things. This enabling leader recognises that they are not the sole or the ‘best’ actor in the local eco – system and that they can achieve more through others.

At the heart of every great city is great leadership.

It is through great local urban leadership that cities will be productive, accessible, liveable places that attract talent, encourage innovation, and create jobs and prosperity.

The certainty and acceleration of change means that right now, cities, towns and communities need leaders that are collaborative, and relationship orientated, that are agile and enable others.

The time is now to make the change.

This is a summary of the presentation given by Katherine O’Regan, Executive Director, Cities Leadership Institute at the 2018 International Cities, Town Centre and Communities Conference, Perth.

KEYWORDS: Collaboration, leadership, innovation, capacity building, peacemaking

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