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Good to Great

by Elizabeth McKee

September 5,2006

Charlotte is a busy city. We have an agenda and we’ll get it done. We have a thriving economy. We have great sports teams and wonderful facilities. We have the world’s largest white water center. We have excellent restaurants and nightlife choices. We volunteer and give to charitable organizations. We have a 2010 plan and are making it happen.

And yet…we don’t know many of our neighbors. We find our public school system unacceptable. We are in violation of federal ozone standards and the American Lung Association ranks us 14th of the worst metropolitan areas with ozone pollution. We conduct studies to know how to be a cool city with hot jobs, yet we have 27 neighborhoods that remain “fragile” based on unemployment & crimes rates (2004). We embrace diversity if it enhances who we are as a “world class city,” but not when it challenges our beliefs.

We thrive on rushing around and being busy. Are we so good at focusing on the tasks that we have overlooked why we created those tasks in the first place? It is not our “busy-ness” that is the problem; it is our lack of intention. What are our intentions for being a world class city? Is it only so we can say we have certain characteristics: arts, sports, restaurants and the like in place?

In his new monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins states, “If we only have great companies, we will merely have a prosperous society, not a great one. Economic growth and power are the means, not the definition, of a great nation.”

We have known for the past several years that we are beyond the era of having the “hero” leaders like McColl, Crutchfield and Lee. We need to look beyond the business sector for our leadership. We each need to be a leader in our own way.

One of the first steps in being a leader is being aware. Be self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses; be aware of those around you and how effectively you interact with them. Our rushing or “busy-ness” offers little opportunity for such awareness. We focus on the task at hand without regard to its implications...we rush without intention. We create little or no space to include and consider the wisdom and knowledge that we may be overlooking: opinions, perspectives or ideas that could potentially help us. We act exclusively rather than inclusively. Exclusivity weakens us because rather than go outside our comfort zone to test our ideas or perspectives, we keep to our homogeneous groups through work, neighborhood and friends. Our ideas are simply reinforced rather than challenged. Inclusiveness, being broad in scope, opening ourselves to a diversity of perspectives, allowing our ideas and perspectives to be challenged breathes new life and creativity into the way we do things and act as a community.

So first, let’s practice greater self-awareness. We’ll start small. Pick your biggest pet-peeve with Charlotte. And then pay attention – what is your effect on this? Can you change the role you play in this and see how even that small change may affect it?

Is it traffic? If so, are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Do you drive aggressively? Do you speed?

Government got you down? Did you vote? If no, why not? Next time, VOTE! Learn about, talk with and challenge the candidates. Heck, run for office or participate in a citizen committee to advise our politicians.

Second, let’s practice greater awareness of our community. How often do you look? How often do you listen? What do you observe or notice? What do you act upon? Do you call 311 if you see water pouring up out of a street? Do you know what 311 is?

Jim Collins also said, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” We can continue our rush and being busy – it’s how we do things. But let us also get those things done by being intentional (“conscious” in Jim Collins’ terms) while practicing greater self-awareness and awareness of those around us. It will only make Charlotte stronger.

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