If it doesn’t feel like things are changing that much, we do not actively and aggressively look for new ways to adapt to that change. It’s really that simple. And increasingly, it’s really that dangerous.
– John Kotter, Thoughts on the Changing World Around Us
Good government happens when its leaders work to meet the needs of all as opposed to select groups in society. As required by POA bylaws, it “mutually benefits” all its members. Too many recent leaders ignore this concept. The past history of Diamondhead’s government has been written mainly by developers and others whose agendas were to benefit special interests. As one current director sums up the board’s work on Facebook, “Do we have things to improve, for sure, we won’t agree on half of it, but so long as half, any half appreciates it, we are doing right by members.”
Approval by half the people equals doing right. Really? There’s the heart of the problem: elected representatives with no interest in consensus-building or inspiring the engagement of others or collaborating to build a community. Mired in an outdated mindset, they believe their job is to convey closed-door top-down decisions to the rest of us, congratulate themselves for “doing right” if half the community agrees, and accuse those who dare differ of being “negative.” In our rapidly changing world, that kind of mindset is not only obsolete, it’s destructive.
The Great Recession and demographic trends have transformed the way people live – our work, play, family life, travel, social interaction, and much more has shifted. Technological progress above all else has altered the world we knew, speeding change up to an unprecedented degree. New ideas, innovations, lifestyles — everything spreads overnight. Old ways can’t keep pace, can’t attract or appeal enough anymore.
If we want a vibrant, viable community, we need leaders who constantly watch for opportunities to improve and understand how to take advantage of them. You can’t lead Diamondhead into new success in this fast moving world by doing and thinking just like always; a new set of skills and abilities is needed.
Global management consultants in a year long study found that leaders who make important strides in improving their cities, no matter their starting point, do certain things really well: they achieve smart growth, do more with less, and win support for change. Above all, they build consensus:
Building consensus with the local population and the business community through transparency and two-way communication is key to defining a city leader’s vision. “Get everyone engaged,” says Boston’s Mayor Menino. “Listen to the neighborhoods. The story of change is not about the mayor, it is about the engagement. Make people believe and understand you’re making their lives better.”
Making peoples’ lives better — that’s what good leaders do. Not just their friends’ lives or their interest group’s lives but everyone’s lives. It’s not about making backroom decisions and hoping “any half” will approve — it’s about using the best possible processes to make those decisions. Good government leaders are accountable, transparent, responsive, law-abiding, equitable, inclusive, effective, efficient, and participatory. That’s the polar opposite of the current mindset among too many of our elected officials who prefer trading votes in a quid pro quo effort to secure favors for their own special interest groups at the expense of the community’s best interest.
There are so many things that all of us appreciate about our quality of life here. It’s a well-maintained, attractive, safe community, and we don’t want to give that up. When change comes as it always will, we want it to be an improvement, not a loss. We have to be proactive to achieve that. Enough has been lost already; property values, population, participatory democracy, and key cultural markers like library and continuing education. We can’t shape change by sticking to the same old formulas or waiting till it grabs us by the throat before we wrestle with it.
To adapt, we have to stop being pawns in others’ special interest games. If we want a better community, we citizens have to write Diamondhead’s next chapter ourselves, making sure that all residents and POA members are part of influencing what happens. “The smartest city in Mississippi” can’t just be our title on a few webpages; it must be how we actually perform.
POA elections are right around the corner. Dig in, do your homework, get involved, above all vote for those with consensus-building, up-to-date skills and abilities. Candidates who are stuck in the old ways can’t help us design a city that adapts and prospers with change. We have to build a better board. All of Diamondhead’s people deserve to have one.