Leadership- as a platform?

Over the past few years, two things have been prominent in my thinking and the subject of much of my internal monologue; government as a platform, and leadership.

I’ve forced more time into my schedule during the day and after work to think, to abstract the work we’re doing, what is means, why it matters and what is important that we’re not aware of. Government as a platform is an idea from a wonderful guy- Tim O’Reilly, who suggested that government truly should be a platform to enable society to function, grow, create.  Similar to software platforms that allow developers to create on top of them and produce amazing new things incredibly easily and cheaply, government is a base for our society that allows us all to live and create and prosper. As opposed to the common perception of government as a vending machine- taxes in, services out. The problem here is that vending machines are dumb and do not adapt.

I’ve had excellent opportunities these past few years to grow into a leadership role in my work place, in our community and in some networks I value greatly. I’ve not yet had any formal leadership training but I do read, quite a bit.

I grew up with strong, blunt bosses in most jobs. Aggressive, forceful and dominating men in most part. And the boomer generation seems to contain a lot of these people, people who have a style of management or “leadership” that is dominating, aggressive and controlling. The exceptions were two wonderful people in the WA Health Dept, Dr Jim Codde and Sally Brinkman. Reflecting on what I’ve started to understand about my own style of leadership with my team and my side projects has given me pause to reflect on what I’ve witnessed as leadership styles and characteristics that I value.

Funnily as I write this Alain De Botton is on in the background mentioning that the best way to get work our of people is by frightening them. Weird.

These two ideas have merged in my head now- the platform, and leadership to be exact.  I feel that to enable my team to do the best work possible, to grow professionally and to move our work to the next level I need to support them, to encourage them and to set examples I want them to follow of how to think, create and innovate and to maintain quality standards in all they do.  It feels like doing that type of support, being their cheerleader and inspiring is a much more effective way to do our work and create a space that people want to be attached to and to stay at. Rather than a eagle eyed micro manager drilling out work, it seems that being a leader is more like providing a platform for others to excel, to succeed and to learn and grow.  There is some conflict here, obviously a leader must be out cheer leading, promoting, fundraising and trumpeting the amazing work of their team, but that also must fit into the concept of a platform- to enable more great work, more exciting opportunities, one must support their team and marketing and bringing in new work is part of that support platform. 

It’s quite likely that these thoughts pertain more to the creative industries I’ve been privileged to be part of for some time. A factory setting or a construction boss perhaps is not a great place to suggest these approaches?  That caveat aside, this whole idea of leadership is something that has huge implications for our organizations, our longevity and our retention and achievements.  The longer I spend in the start-up and tech worlds the more I realize that the open, unstructured environments where software is created have a lot to teach us about better ways to run creative, thought heavy organizations and teams.

What I don’t know yet is how to translate the vision and goals we develop into formal action across the board. We need to be able to convert these into tangible plans and to make the case to people who may not think or function the same way. Just like making the case for the ROI for a new technology, we need to find ways to make the case for new leadership approaches, for pivots in organizations that do not pivot, to capture opportunities for funds and for new abilities, to take risks.

These are the same things that we are pushing for in the open government movement. It is imperative that we to consider everything we advocate for (from others) and apply those asks, values and challenges to ourselves. If we cannot adapt, cannot be open, cannot create a supporting platform in our own work, then we will have a hard time making that case for government. In this we need to lead by example. Take risks. Experiment. Be open. Innovate.

Next American City Vanguard hits St. Louis

Last week I was humbled to be part of a really amazing group of people- Next American City gathered 40 of the best and brightest people under 40 who are making a significant impact on the future of their city for a two day leadership summit. I was floored when I got accepted into this group at first and during my time in St. Louis I had several realizations.

Firstly, the chance for like minded professionals working in diverse urban environments really need more opportunities to connect and share, to learn from each others success and failures and to be encouraged to excel even more.  Much of the work this group is involved in is hard, changes are slow and rewards are few and far between.  If we are wanting to raise new leaders across our cities to replace the aging boomers currently in control then we must invest in the younger generations wisely.  Exposure to other young leaders is humbling and inspiring and we need both! Without inspiration it’s hard to expect these leaders will sustain their efforts in these important roles and sectors. Without continued humility we risk developing egos that blur our vision of what we are trying to achieve- time with others like these Vanguard should be humbling- 40 people all doing work that we couldn’t really do ourselves, certainly not alone. This is a valuable experience. It’s easy to be big in your own little pond. Humility renders us balanced and fuels the desire to do more great things. Or to start to!

Secondly I realized that this sharing and learning is important to our growth, understanding and thinking. I’ve been part of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership for 6 years and am about to end my three year term on it’s executive committee.  In this network of 37 cities across the USA we often proclaim our value as being a network of professionals with rich data and experience and suggest that this fact is our strength. I disagree- the twice yearly conferences of under 100 people working on urban issues like the folks in the Vanguard are in fact are the two highlights of my year and have been for at least four years.  This drives home the importance of forums to share and learn from our work.  A place to be challenged and inspired, and chance to learn new methods and tools, to be forced to share our own work and thus forced to question what is important or impacting in our own work.  The short time at Vanguard gave us all rich opportunities to share our work, our passions and our frustrations.  Being required to do so is an important process that many of us don’t get pushed to do in our home towns. Or cities.

I’m excited to continue to develop relationships amongst the 2012 Vanguard peeps.  These networks are very powerful in our future- although I’m concerned about network overload personally I see such value in them.  Being able to reach out to a colleague in a city in a different state who has worked through the same issue, being able to jointly develop tools and applications and being able to talk through struggles is an invaluable gift.  For me the NNIP, Code for America and now the Vanguard are perhaps the most valuable things I possess professionally.

Here’s my interview on Next American City on my work in Oakland with Urban Strategies Council and OpenOakland: http://americancity.org/daily/entry/meet-our-vanguard-stephen-spiker

Below are a few pics from the St. Louis Vanguard summit, for more check my photography site:

Welcome to St. Louis?

Welcome to Missouri?

Our welcoming session in the absolutely incredible City Museum

City Museum

Pre-event hangout at Bridge. Don’t ask how many beers they had on tap…

Vanguard @ Bridge

Approaching City Museum- some appropriate confusion and excitement

The Vanguard approach

Inside the wonders of City Museum

Up and up and up

Exploring City Museum

City Museum explorer

The Nebula- awesome co-working space on Cherokee St.

The St. Louis Nebula

Excellent redevelopment work in Old North St. Louis

Old North St. Louis

And finally being regaled by stories from the owner of Blueberry Hill

Blueberry Hill on Delmar Loop

View the whole set on Flickr