The City That Breeds » Baltimore » Longing for Leadership

Longing for Leadership

Pope Ron Swanson

Hello CTB Family,

It’s your friendly, neighborhood, self-appointed Bishop here.  Today I would like to speak with you about one of my passions.

No, this is not going to be a rant about great coffee, or why I hate cats, or my latest book.  I want to talk with you about leadership.

You may not know this about your CTB Bishop (that’s me), but I am a leadership junkie.  I read every leadership book I can get my hands on.  I listen to leadership podcasts.  In my spare time, I search Youtube for my favorite leadership authors sharing leadership nuggets they had to leave out of their books.

I know, I know, I know – I’m a huge dork.  I can’t help it.  As a wise leader once said, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”  I just own it.  There is nothing I can do about it.  I, the Bishop of the CTB, am a proud leadership nerd.

This weekend I got my leadership freak on.  A friend gave me a ticket to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.  It was awesome!  The Summit was two days.  Eight hours a day.  Over 170,000 people either attended the event live in Chicago or watched it via live streaming at a satellite location.  (I watched it at a church in the Glen Burnie.)  There were fourteen speakers. Colin Powell discussed his top seven leadership sayings.   Patrick Lencioni laid out the three things leaders do that cause misery.  Bob Goff shared wild stories about his work in Uganda.  Joseph Grenny explained six leadership tools for influencing behavior change.  I could go on and on.  I was in leadership-nerd heaven.  I filled up 38 pages of my moleskin with notes.  I printed out quotes and hung them on my office wall.   I even forced my wife to sit and listen to me recount the highlights of each talk with the passion of a Dr. Who freak-fan arguing which Doctor was the best.

Even though I was in all my dorky leadership-nerd glory, in the middle of the conference I felt sad.    While listening to Colin Powell explain why he believe “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”, I couldn’t help but think of our fair city.  There was a lump in my throat, a pain in my gut, a tear in my eye.  I have a deep longing for our fair city to experience a different type of leadership.

I’ve lived in Baltimore for nine years now.  I love it here.  I’ve loved all three of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in.  I love the charter school my kids attend.  I think the people are fantastic; but we have a chronic leadership problem.

It is not my intention to bash Stephanie Rawlings Blake.   I was here for the end of O’Malley and for Dixon.  I also don’t think our leadership problem is isolated to the top tier.  I think it’s like an unchecked cancer, it has spread through many levels of the bureaucracy.

What happened with the vote on Harbor point is a fantastic example.  The people asked our leadership to slow down.  To get their voice heard, they did all the right stuff.  They spoke out.  They built petitions.  They showed up to the City Council meeting.  (Even live streamed the meeting here on the CTB.)  But still the people’s voice went unheard.  Then to make it worst, City Council members bragged about their role in ignoring the people’s plea on social media.

At the Summit, Bill Hybels explained leadership is taking a group of people from “here to there.”  Leaders identify what about the present needs to change.  They then call people to a vision of a different future.  As they make the call, they work to make the vision a reality and routinely evaluate the vision’s progress.  It’s honestly that simple.  Have a vision.  Explain the vision.  Work on making the vision real.  Things break down when a leader’s personal ambition competes with the formation or the progress of the vision.

Baltimore has amazing potential.  I believe under the right leader we might even live up to the “Greatest City in America” slogan on our bus stops.  What we need to make the wish a reality is what Jim Collins calls a Level Five Leader.  This type of leader is a combination of personal humility and intense professional will.  Level Fives put the needs of the city before their own ambition, confront the brutal facts of reality, but remain unwavering in their pursuit of the vision.

We don’t need every leadership spot in Baltimore to be filled with a Level Five.  I would be happy with just two or three.

While sitting in the leadership Summit, my heart hurt for our city.  I long for us to have the leadership we need.  Increasingly it is painfully clear we don’t have it now.  Today, I am convince there is only one glimmer of hope on the horizon.  There is only one who has provided a vision I get behind.  Only one who I believe will lead us into the glorious future our bus stops proclaim…





The Bishop of the CTB

Filed under: Baltimore

  • SixNipples

    While I can’t speak about Baltimore (as I’m not a resident), I completely agree with all your points about leadership.

    I saw this first hand at the federal agency I recently left. I think people get to top levels (of course your elected mayor does not fit here) for the wrong reasons. Then in these so-called “leadership” positions, they have absolutely none of the proper skills to actually lead. There is no openness, no transparency, no sharing of the mission (the real one, not the shit they put in their annual reports), no modeling the behavior they expect from those on the front-line.

    Then, sadly, this poor leadership becomes contagious and you soon have an agency being “managed” by a group of improperly-skilled people. It doesn’t work. Moral plummets, good people leave.

    Poor leadership also has a strong aversion to one of the best tools in any organization: two-way communication. They sit at top and push half-baked plans and ideas down the chain. Then they are surprised when there is no buy-in from those who actually have to do the work and execute the plan.

    And when you fill a lot of agencies (federal, state, local), you have a disfunctional system of governance.

    Of course there are many great leaders in government, but not nearly enough to outweigh the fake “leaders”.