Renewing leadership capacity

Leadership ideas change with history. Each era requires its own specific form of leadership and a governance system to match prevailing conditions. Each city will assess whether it is in consolidation or change mode. In moments of dramatic change, transformational leadership is required rather than the skills of the coordinator or manager. Local leaders will need to move from being merely strategists to being visionaries. While strategists command and demand, visionaries excite and entice. They will need to move from being commanders of their cities, businesses, institutions or cultural bodies to being able to tell a story about the bigger picture and where their entity fits in, so moving from being institutional engineers to change agents.

These leaders should provide answers for people in their city concerning their personal, work, social and moral choices. The story they tell interweaves what their own institution could be, what role others can play and how to get there.25 There are ordinary, innovative and visionary leaders. The first simply reflect the desires or needs of the group they lead. An innovative leader questions circumstances to draw out latent needs, bringing fresh insight to new areas. Visionary leaders, by contrast, harness the power of completely new ideas and get beyond the ding-dong of day-to-day debate. They retell a compelling story so that everyone feels they have a role to play, however small or large.

Most importantly, leadership requires the courage to act decisively in the knowledge that some will disagree; to acknowledge that what is required goes well beyond a single political cycle; and to dare to be creative and inspirational. Lastly, great courage is required to acknowledge that the transformation and regeneration of a city takes a generation, with initiatives building on each other and harnessing across vested interests. Only a few places, like

Barcelona, Bilbao or Valencia, where, importantly, the autonomy of their local leaderships has played a significant role, have reinvented themselves in such a way.

Existing leaders need to trade their power for creative influence, which means giving away power in order to increase influence over a wider sphere. Leadership is a civic capacity as important as hard infrastructure. It should be a renewable resource. The cultural attributes and attitudes or mindsets that have made places successful in the past, such as being an industrial production hub, are those that could constrain them in the future if, say, they need to become a services centre. Industrial and service economies work in different ways. Today communities and companies all over the world are replacing hierarchies with networks, authority with empowerment, order with flexibility, and creativity and paternalism with self-responsibility.

How many leaders does a city of a million need? 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10,000? Indeed, 10,000 still represents only 1 per cent of the population. A city of a million should have a football stadium worth of leaders, as the good and successful city is made up of thousands of acts of tenacity, solidarity and creativity. The challenge is to unlock this potential. It is not enough to demand leadership only from government. Leaders come in many forms and from unusual places: communities, business, the cultural arena, the environment people, activists of many colours. Most cities have many undiscovered leaders and those that exist often do not work across boundaries.

The new reality of power is that to share power is not an abdication of responsibility but the only feasible and responsible means by which leaders can possibly achieve everything they want for their communities. By sharing power, cities can achieve far more for their citizens. Having influence over a more powerful, larger patch is better than having a lot of power in a smaller patch that has no influence. Cities need leaders at different levels and spheres, as urban success depends on the successful results of a myriad set of initiatives. As long as there is a sense of a clear unfolding urban story, based on a set of explicit principles, self-activated leaders can funnel and focus energy so complexity is reduced.

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