Beyond the Popular Vote: Leadership Required to Carry Detroit Forward

Downtown Detroit, 2017.

“There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two. ” -Bertolt Brecht

With the candidate filing and withdrawal deadline for city elections now passed, 2017 is shaping to be a pivotal year for the city of Detroit. We have an incumbent mayor facing perhaps his toughest challenge yet in a legacy candidate with instant name recognition, and a slew of faces new and old vying for all council seats. Additionally, the race for city clerk has sparked a new interest and become a coveted, vulnerable seat following the fiasco of the 2016 election in Detroit.

Yet, as with every election cycle, we are sure to hear familiar campaign messages and promises of why the particular candidate is best for the office desired. However, given the active and intense political climate following the 2016 election, the expectations to deliver on the campaign rhetoric are higher than ever. In this light, even more necessary than delivering on those promises  is the way in which the delivery will be implemented- through leadership.

Candidates must be aware that Detroit is hungry for a different style of leadership in public office. Therefore, to be successful in this election cycle and beyond, candidates must think past the ballot box, not only presenting plans for the city’s continuing success, but demonstrating leadership qualities necessary for delivering their vision for the city. In turn, this begs the question: what styles and qualities of leadership will emerge to avoid empty promises and move the city forward for all of its residents and stakeholders alike?

Ironically, despite needing the popular vote to win the election, candidates must be comfortable with being unpopular. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd (Max Lucado).” This requires being unpopular not in the sense that no one will like you, but an understanding that you are not out to please everyone. Candidates must know that everyone will not agree with them or like them, and that is okay so long as they are doing what is best for their constituents- the people whom they lead and will follow when their interests and needs are first priority.

Candidates must be brave, and in the realm of politics, this means willing to be subject to public scrutiny in all facets of professional and personal life. In particular, for first time candidates without a familiar body of work to put forth, personal records matter, as it may be all one can be judged by. Nevertheless, candidates must be able to withstand the criticism because not everyone will agree with all their policies, even their staunchest supporters. Without criticism, potential leaders are destined to fail due to lack of diverse input and challenge. At the same time, candidates must be brave enough to own their record and unafraid to challenge others to do the same.

In relation, life is nothing without adversity. As a public official, adversity is magnified on center stage, but candidates must be unwavering in the face of adversity and able to rise above all obstacles. Significantly, as desired leaders, candidates must also be bold enough to speak up for those without a voice, use their platforms to influence change, and stand firmly in spite of challenges from opponents who would seek to tear them down. Nothing will convince others to follow more than one who stands strong and refuses to give up during the toughest times.

Perhaps most of all, candidates must be honest- be real about what’s real. People are looking to you for answers- tell them what you know. And if you don’t know- say so. Not only is it okay to admit you don’t know, but you are only human and will never be perfect, so by necessity, you will never know everything. This is just fine, and people will understand so long as you are honest. They see through dishonesty and can be completely put off when the truth is revealed. Once trust is broken, it is hard to mend, but people are generally more willing to forgive a sincere apology than an intentional coverup.

In case of a breach of honesty, and let’s be truthful, it happens- be accountable. Be able to accept your mistakes and shortcomings. Don’t hide behind them, blame others, or worse- stay quiet and say nothing. Again, as a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Be as honest in your faults as you are in your triumphs. Furthermore, don’t allow your faults to derail or stall you along your path. Accept the consequences of your actions and move forward. Life continues in spite of your downfalls. Don’t get swept away with it, particularly if you are in  a position to advance others. Provide solutions, not excuses, and forge ahead.

Finally, and most importantly, a leader must always look to the future. “Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation (Simon Sinek).” Whomever is elected to office come November must think today what his or her legacy will be once their term has ended. If it does not include a plan for the future leadership of Detroit, their work is a failed mission, and we will again be left seeking the leadership that we yearn for today.


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