It has been a whirlwind week. Mayor Ronnie was at the Electric Cities conference in Florida, and I was at a business conference in Cleveland. At Mayor Ronnie’s conference, one of the keynote speakers was actor Steve Ford, son of former US President Gerald and First Lady Betty Ford. Steve has had an impressive acting career, appearing in such films as When Harry Met Sally, Blackhawk Down, and lent his voice to Transformers.
Mayor Ronnie got to spend time talking with Mr. Ford and came away with a “new perspective on perspective.” Steve’s dad was one of the most underrated and misunderstood presidents in our history, and had to step up to clean up the messes left by Vice President Spiro Agnew, followed by President Richard Nixon. It was a terrible time in America, and by all accounts, we were falling apart. Inner cities were blowing up, campuses were blowing up, Vietnam was blowing up, and President Ford became laser focused on doing whatever he could to heal the country, even if it was controversial. His methodology was not exactly popular, and specifically for Mayor Ronnie, as a ‘Nam vet, the decision on the part of President Ford to forgive the draft dodgers, who were hiding out in Canada or elsewhere was not an easy one. Mayor Ronnie’s “takeaway” from his chat with Steve Ford was that true leadership has the ability to see the focused object, as well as the big picture, sacrificing neither, and being willing to be misunderstood for the sake of the people you are serving.
Any leader faces that, if they are doing their job well. And it is stunning to see how quickly people allow their fears to take precedence over facts.
General Boles has continued to challenge the mayor with the tales of triumphs and mistakes that were made during Boles’ legendary military career. Some of those “stretchers” were captured in the following 5 questions:
• Engagement-Is there transparency in the organization? (In our case, the City of Athens) Is there care for employees and customers (citizens)?
• Integrity-Is it visible? Do leaders “walk their talk”?
• Quality Products and Services- Does the organization make or provide something they are proud to stand for and stand behind? He asked me, “What do we want our city to look like? Are people thinking about future generations? What will we be handing off to our young people?”
• Purpose- Does the organization make the greater society better instead of using only a financial equation for validation of its purpose? That is the question on the table regarding the vote for schools. Do the benefits outweigh the detractors, and will new schools serve to protect the autonomy of Athens? “I tell people that they need to do their own research, and vote according to their conscience,” he said. “I know how my wife and I are going to vote,” he added.
• Operations-Specifically, do the leaders conduct themselves honorably? Is the company (or city), viewed as being at the top of their industry category? If NerdWallet’s recent assessment is accurate, Athens is doing well. However, Mayor Ronnie quickly pointed out that no matter how many times we talk about “quality of life” in this column, that is the all-encompassing goal because it pre-supposes that everything else is in line, i.e., public safety, education, jobs, and peoples’ life of faith.
Lastly, he told a funny story of passionate Auburn fan, and City Councilman Harold Wales having to concede that Alabama Coach Nick Saban made some wise statements when he queried, “What is leadership? We make a mistake about what it is. It’s really about influencing someone else for their benefit. So many people think it’s about influencing someone for their own benefit. That’s manipulation, not leadership.” “Whoa!” I hollered, when the Mayor told me that. Then we prayed, and it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner