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What Kind of Leaders Does Charlotte Need

by Dee Dee Murphy

March 5,2006

It’s an exciting time to live in my native hometown of Charlotte, and the excitement is everywhere. Look around, and you’ll see 360 degrees of successes in the measures that make a city livable. Growth and development (hopefully managed) bring vertical reality to progress. Take the pulse of the city in conversations and notice the feeling of optimism. It’s more than our perpetual spirit of boosterism – this city has palpable momentum. Charlotte is becoming more inviting and more desirable.

I’ve been thinking about how all this came to be, and about what remains to be done. The pride that I have in our recent string of successes, entertainment facilities, a newly-acquired tournament, and successful non-profit fund drives is tempered by the awareness of human services needs, the lack of affordable housing, and an education system that screams for help on all levels. These community problems are being addressed on many fronts, and while there are no easy solutions, it’s encouraging that these issues have the attention of our decision-makers. We live in a community that values progress, which we measure not only in glass and steel, but also in enhanced lives.

What kind of leadership does it take to tackle weighty issues in the here and now, and also to think in the future tense? What skills are required for mastery of the complex dynamic of serving the public? What do leaders need to know? The first step in leadership development can be found in Socrates’ quote, “Know thyself.” So, it makes sense that one of the global leadership universals is personal literacy – understanding and valuing yourself. It’s a logical step from self-awareness to then understanding others. Personally literate leaders will move our community forward with aggressive insight, confident humility, authentic flexibility, reflective decisiveness and realistic optimism.

Other twenty-first century leadership competencies include social literacy – engaging and challenging people, and cultural literacy – valuing and leveraging cultural differences. Cultural literacy is critical in our diverse society and our global environment. Leaders who master these competencies are more effective at being exemplary leaders. According to Kouzes and Posner, leaders who are exemplary share these practices. They model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.

I think the practice most needed is being able to inspire a shared vision. Leaders who passionately believe that they can make a difference envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization/business/city can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, they enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future. People want to follow them. Charlotte is indebted to generations of leaders who were able to successfully communicate their vision and inspire others to follow. I can imagine years of conversations where our tireless volunteer community leaders dreamed and hoped about what Charlotte could become if only…

Then, they worked to fill that void with ballot initiatives, with public-private partnerships, with bond campaigns, with fundraising campaigns, with numerous civic efforts designed to achieve the desired ends. I am thankful that in 2006, our leadership at the decision-making level is more diverse. This inclusiveness taps the full potential of the community and the richness of our ideas.

In the past several years our community experienced a shift in leadership, when several established leaders moved off the stage. These changes raised the question, “Is there a leadership gap?” We quickly saw the void being filled by new voices with fresh ideas and new energy. My hope is that these leaders will continue the commitment to progress and will follow their passions to effecting change in a positive way.

Leadership guru Max DePree said, “Perhaps a way to think about the difference between sight and vision is this: we can teach ourselves to see things the way they are. Only with vision can we begin to see things the way they can be.” To our benefit, Charlotte has been fortunate to have leaders who saw things the way they could be. And, leaders who adhere to a quote that was overheard at the recent “Foursight” forum, “The only thing worse than vision without action is action without vision.” These are words to lead by.

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