Having just completed three years in public office, I would like to share some observations from my experiences. This is not a tell all, gossip sheet sort of thing. Rather, it is a look at some of the qualities I have observed from both positive and negative experiences that are a must in a good public servant, a leader in the community.
Number one: Vision. Having vision is looking to the future with imagination, to see what is possible. It is to dare to believe in something greater. While this sounds a bit utopian, it is grounded in a clear, distinctive, and specific plan to tackle the tough issues for a better tomorrow. It is not merely dreaming. Not to have vision is, at best, maintaining the status quo. The world is constantly changing, and we have to change with it if we are going to have a future. The status quo is unacceptable.
Number two: Commitment. This is about dedicating the time to understanding the job and getting it done as part of a team. It’s also about setting the example, getting down in the trenches in order to understand what your people do. It’s not enough to assume or think you know or attend two or three meetings at month. It is about being part of the solution. Commitment is also about one’s dedication to the community and its future.
Number three: Positive Thinking. Your attitude is infectious, affecting the morale/motivation of others around you. If you’re regularly down, you can bet your bottom dollar that will have a negative impact on others. On the other hand, if you are routinely up, the effect will be equally positive. Positive thinking also means that criticism needs to be a positive tool: if you are going to criticize something, be prepared to offer a real solution, not just a short-term, easy fix.
Number four: Respect. Like positive thinking, respect is a two-way street; however, it is not the infectious type. It is earned: if you want it, you have to give it. It’s a question of value. A familiar adage in leadership schools is, "Praise in public, admonish in private." You do not belittle your employees in a public setting or in front of their peers. As with positive thinking, or lack thereof, morale/motivation, and hence productivity, will be affected by the level of respect that is given. Respect also involves fairness, treating everyone the same, regardless of any personal issues or socio-economic standing. You don’t single out one person for special treatment while neglecting others simply because of prior history, a name, their education, where they live, or how much they make. Similarly, as a representative of the people, all citizens are treated the same.
Number five: Decisiveness. This quality, as I define it, is about resoluteness in making a decision. Abstaining is not a decision. It is a non-vote. Public servants, especially elected ones, are expected to make decisions unless there is a conflict. It is yes or no. If a person is afraid to make a decision, he or she has no business in a position of public trust.
Number six: Creativity. A person in a position of leadership has to be able to offer solutions. As I noted above, it is not enough just to be critical. You have to make a contribution. Anyone can criticize; a community is built by creative people.
Number seven: Integrity. By definition, integrity is a concept of consistency or wholeness of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. Ethically speaking, it is defined as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. It can stand in opposition to hypocrisy: that is, saying one thing but doing just the opposite. Number eight: Trust. The Village of Dansville has department heads and employees to do specific jobs. They have varying degrees of expertise, but generally speaking they know more about what they do than anyone on the Board. They need to be trusted and allowed to carry out their duties according to their respective positions. Trying to do their job interferes with that work, creating confusion and mistrust, which in turn leads to a downturn in efficiency and effectiveness. It also takes away from Board members’ time and energy to do the things they need to focus on.
Clearly, this list is not all encompassing, but these are the big ones. For the better part of two centuries, the men and women who led this community in the political, economic, and social arenas were people who exhibited most, if not all, of the qualities I’ve listed. They were dreamers and doers who sometimes tripped but had the courage to get up and keep going to make Dansville a better place to live, work, and play. To paraphrase our 26th president and fellow New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, they were not the critics, the persons who pointed out how the strong person stumbled; they were the people in the trenches striving valiantly with enthusiasm, devotion, and energy. They were not "those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."