8 Mayors I have loved, and that other 1 …

Mini Mayors in waiting …

You know one of the great things, and there are many, about being a CEO in Local Government is working with Mayors. As a CEO five times over (yes, I have been, and yes it is fun), I have worked directly with nine, yep, nine Mayors. That is a few more than most.

It was a privilege to work with eight of them, the other one was that guy, you know THAT GUY.  Eight out of nine of my Mayors have been men, so it was that guy.

I have worked with many other Mayors, less directly. One of the regional tourism organisations I managed was funded by 22 Councils, so 22 Mayors to keep sweet on an annual funding cycle (plus their CEOs, much harder to keep happy than a Mayor), but here I am only talking about my nine. Like the dirty dozen, only the delightful eight plus that guy.

It’s a strange and unusual relationship, the Mayor and CEO. A thing of mystical power and meaningful delivery when done well. A horror-show of crazy when it goes bad. It is not as simple as manager – employee, nor as well defined as chair – GM. Maybe, I can best describe it as an intense partnership with demarcation zones, a symbiotic relationship with inherent tensions.

I like symbiotic (Cambridge dictionary definition – involving two types of animal or plant in which each provides the conditions necessary for the other to continue to exist). A symbiotic relationship indeed. I would change exist to thrive, and then throw into the mix the x factor, being the number of other Councillors you, as CE, must engage with successfully, but to perhaps a lesser degree, although still necessary and time consuming.

Usually, a CEO is recruited by the Councillors as a group, or a selection sub committee of Councillors. If you are lucky they will have involved the services of a professional recruiter with LG expertise. I will write more on recruitment later.

But suffice to say, it is helpful to have the Mayor as wanting to employ you from day one. Does that seem redundant or obvious? Remember, it’s always a numbers game in LG. So we can end up with a situation of a CEO being appointed against the Mayor’s wishes. As in, not the choice the Mayor would have made. Think it cannot happen, think again, but that is a story for another time.

Let’s pause and consider how Mayors come to their role, it’s not a job. Democracy is the methodology, and voting Jo Public are the decision makers. No recruitment, no selection criteria, no long list, no short list and definitely no aptitude, skills testing or psychological profiling. A long and very public interview process called electioneering.

Usually, once every three or four years, in the course of one day, the Mayor is elected by popular vote. BOOM. DONE. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Now don’t get all huffy if you are an elected representative reading this. I am, of course over-simplify for effect.

And yes, there you are as the CEO phoning the successful Mayor and saying the kingdom is theirs. Should the Mayor be returning then, phew, that Mayor hired you, it’s probably all ok, business as usual, assuming you have worked that relationship into a great space prior to now.

Should it be a spanking new Mayor, well then they inherit you as their CEO. No choice, awkward much. Not so awkward if the new Mayor was a Councillor last term, a little more weird if he/she wasn’t.  Potentially career ending should the incoming Mayor have run on a ‘sack the CEO’ platform. Never my experience, but enough want to be Mayors do take this position to make it a thing. Charming.

One thing for certain, a new Mayor means business will not be as usual come Monday morn. Show me another organisational entity managing diverse assets and service delivery and upwards of $40M budgets that has this model. That’s another story, but back to this one.

There is definitely work to be done to be elected as a Mayor. It’s not magic, it is an election campaign, sometimes ugly, definitely hard work, a major effort, real visibility required and some of your own dollars at LG level, cha-ching. Plus self belief by the bucket load.

And there is certainly bucket loads of work to be done to stay a Mayor for more than one term. A little bit of magic is needed here, as Jo Public can be fickle. An election is a performance review of sorts, I suppose, except the KPIs may not have been so clear, nor universally accepted. And there is no rectification period either, you are just in or out. Like Project Runway, only less avant-garde and more brutal. No one hugs.

As an aside, one of my five Councils had a different methodology for Mayoral selection. All Councillors were elected by Jo Public, but then the Councillors elect decided among themselves which one would be the Mayor. Very Masonic Lodge, except there one  female Councillor, and she got to vote. All acceptable under the legislation of the day (yes, go New South Wales, you little rebel state you).

But for now, back to my Mayors. All nine had a self confident streak of sorts. Have to have one of these, no shy, retiring wallflowers permitted as Jo Public cannot remember shy on voting day. Self confidence ranges from self aware to egotistical. My best Mayors had a high degree of self awareness and confidence, that combined with life experience, real world intellect and emotional intelligence, made them powerfully good forces for the better.

The very best Mayors understood their communities. Not just one section of the community, but the niches within. Good Mayors get their people, get their local issues, will go to bat on the issues the community want to see progressed. Great Mayors know how to push the bandwagon full of issues, up a hill and get results for the community they serve.

Good Mayors are also resilient. Have to be. When you stand for election it is a public declaration and a percentage of Jo Public, Mr Media (old school) and Ms Media (social media) can be cruel. Ms Media has come a long way since the first election I ran as a five month old CEO back in 2000. Now everyone (except officers of council) can have an online voice during election campaigns. It’s a bitch when the keyboard warriors come out to play, all ill-informed and ready to destroy our would be Mayors. No wonder so few people run for public office.

Good Mayors work well with people, great Mayors know how to get the best out of people, including their CEOs. My best Mayors have taught me something, have invested in me, as I have in them, and given me the time, freedom and support to be a decent CEO. To do the job the way I do, which leads me to the other guy. Ugh, yuk.

This is not a name and shame space, so don’t expect me to call him out. What I will say is he is no longer in LG, excellent. He was a bully, unauthentic and centered on self. He wanted a dictatorship and got a democracy. Poor babe, big beastie at the wrong watering hole it would seem.

I don’t do God, or any other deity, but read this here and thought yep, my best Mayors have, in varying degrees, displayed the nine fruits of the Spirit. Good Mayors have spirit, great Mayors have nine fruits mixed with SPIRIT! That sounded cool to me. The Apostle Paul wrote about nine fruits of the Spirit. The nine fruits of the Spirit are:

  1. Love – you know it’s THE thing, you gotta love it or don’t do it, no Mayor ‘does it for the money’ … eye roll …most Mayors don’t even earn three figures for their 60 hour weeks
  2. Joy – because without joy what is there … the ugly sister misery, bitter and cra cra
  3. Peace – everyone wants peace and his sister harmony – hold hands now, group hug
  4. Patience – Mayors deal with Jo Public … need I say more
  5. Kindness – kindness is next to greatness
  6. Goodness – like greatness, only not self absorbed
  7. Faithfulness – you gotta have faith, faith in the system, faith in the team – ask George Micheal
  8. Gentleness – so under rated and only found in the very best Mayors, you have the power, be gentle with it, no one needs a slap when gentle persuasion and a handshake works
  9. Self-control – my personal fav, everything from controlling your urge to respond to every social media hack / letter to the editor, to not doing a Bill Clinton on the mayoral desk …

Add to that my new age nine, being:

  1. Empathy – find it in yourself to understand the person in front of you, understand it matters to them, therefore it matters to you
  2. Advocacy – fight the good fight, win the war not the battle
  3. Engagement – do stuff, go to the people (not them always come to you), read your papers, get in the thick of it, open things, listen, seek to understand, see 1), engagement is the stepping stone to empathy
  4. Authenticity – be the real you unless the real you is the that guy … then be someone better
  5. Consistency – helps so much in the daily churn of things when the Mayor can be relied upon to be consistent, when thinking of change, have a chat, no surprises  please, if your Councillors or CEO first know about it from the front page of the newspaper … not great
  6. Commitment – you only have three/four years … get on with it, act in the term, plan for the ten year horizon and think 50 years from now … and if you are committed to getting something done, fund it … no budget = no resource = no work = no commitment
  7. Pragmatism – understand that once policy hits the road she may get a flat tyre and you better have a jack handy and know how to use it, may be referred to as Plan B
  8. Collaboration – no Mayor is an island – work effectively and yes, nicely with your fellow Councillors and other influencers/funders/officers, as remember it’s a numbers game and you will want to have the numbers both around the table and come next election
  9. Media Savvy  – read in conjunction with number 9 from Apostle Paul, if in doubt say nothing, no keyboards after 8.00pm or two wines, whichever comes first and if there is a script stick to it, see number 5) consistency

So with these 18 points covered off, more or less,  I think you would have yourself a very decent Mayor. Like I have had.

In closing, I have a couple of Mayoral snippets to pass on. These are not the usual poetic words of wisdom, but at the time, each and every one resonated with me. I was grateful to hear my Mayor of the day say these words to me.

Note, these may not be word for word accurate, but it’s how I remember them. I am making up Mayoral names for the speakers, these are not their real names, as you know that would be a silly thing to do, use their real names. Some of them read my work, some of them referee for me, so if they want to own their words, or correct me, they can do so by their choice, not mine. Let us begin.

Mayor Call a Spade a Spade once said to me …. If I am here after two terms I am no longer part of the solution, I am now clearly part of the problem … 

What I took from this … excellent rationale for making changes early in the piece before you yourself slip into accepting the mediocre status quo. A great Mayor, who had a gazillion years of private sector experience, who I learnt lots from.

Mayor Resilient as Hell said …  Last term they burnt out my front paddock, but I’m still Mayor and I’m not going anywhere and the grass grew back so there! 

What I took from this … setbacks do not have to set you back. A great Mayor who showed me what first world problems were even before it was a meme.

Mayor Put the P in Pragmatic said … You have to move out to move up

What I took from this …  experience in diverse environments counts, don’t sit still all comfy and self satisfied, move on and explore the opportunities as they present. A great Mayor who got the control and release tension just right in the Mayor – CEO relationship.

Mayor Community Minded said … It’s Christmas in North Queensland, put up the bloody snowflakes and I’ll deal with the negative nellies …

What I took from this … do what is right for the silent majority, not the noisy minority. A great Mayor who understood grassroots and never let the big end of town dictate or allowed the lunatics to run the asylum.

Mayor Big Picture said … eat the elephant one bite at a time and chew properly to avoid indigestion  

What I took from this … slow down, things sometimes take time to work thru, and by taking some time it will be less painful and maybe even more fruitful. My great Zen Mayor who managed stress like a Master.

Mayor of Fun Times said …. Stop organising, it’s a party, have a drink, eat some cheese  …

What I took from this … once the food is out and the first wine glass is full you are no longer required as the CEO, just be a person having a drink with the tribe. My great Mayor of the People, for the People, even the pain in the arse, oh goodness not those people again people.

Mayor of Unusual Insight said … Stop focusing on the bottom 3%, they are never going to get you, focus on the middle 67% who can be converted into joining the top 30% who already get you …

What I took from this … a lot of time can be wasted on a relative few who won’t ever add great value to the whole, move your efforts to where they have the best chance of making the greatest difference. A great Mayor who understood organisational culture and what success would look like, giving me wings to fly the sky in my own way.

Mayor of Straight Shooting said … You be the bad cop and I’ll be the bad boss of the bad cop and we will end this nonsense once and for all …

What I took from this … together we can stay the course and overcome, or at least move past the crazy. A great Mayor as we stood together and ran mine fields.

Bully Pants Mayor said …. Since you arrived nothing has gone well, everyone hates you, you should leave  …

What I took from this … some bullies say dumb stuff when you stand your ground and won’t be intimidated, because you know you are right … reputation matters, hold the course and do your crying at home, as this too shall pass … and it did, two months later he resigned, I didn’t. That guy.

Well, I think that is enough for now, except to say Mayors are Mayors, CEOs are CEOs and it is up to you, as CEO, the paid professional, to make it work. But Mayors, be great as that helps.

Thanks for reading this marathon effort. Come back soon for why going rural is a fab option, often overlooked by city slickers.

Cheers, Le

PS just in case …. More Masonic Lodge info here …. My grand-dad was a Mason, and I bet heaps of Freemasons can be found in both elected representative and old school officer ranks within LG. But it’s a big NO to women joining. Personally, for me, I prefer a good Men’s Shed. In Australia women are welcome in Men’s Shed, in NZ a little less so from what I read here. Women have friends elsewhere according to the NZ Men’s Shed info. So looks like I’ll just have to join a chardonnay sipping book club, seeing my kids are too old for playgroup  … jeez …

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