The ten commandments of local leadership

Up and down the country new political leaderships are being installed as a result either of political change of control or personnel changes.

As part of a series of columns examining the positive side of local government I would like to offer some advice. I am of course completely unqualified to do so and you will be getting plenty of other advice so I can feel comfortable I am not doing too much harm.

It appears to be traditional to have ten maxims, so here we are:

1. Clearly articulate a vision as to how you wish to see your place develop. Few of us came into politics without a desire to change things; set out what you want as your desirable objectives and then consider what needs to change.

2. Do not get sucked into simply being part of the chief executive’s management regime. Your job is not simply to manage the existing plan but to lead the organisation along a new path.

3. You will have been told that a member’s job is to make decisions while officers carry out the operational detail. That may be an ideal but it is largely a myth. The next time a member of the public rings to say their bin has not been collected try telling them it’s an operational matter. Equally, provided you keep it within bounds, there is nothing wrong in officers making an input on policy.

4. If there has been a change in political control, the temptation will be to get rid of the officers involved with the previous regime. Sometimes this is necessary but if possible try and avoid it as firstly, it can gain you a reputation for being trigger happy and difficult to work with and secondly you may be missing some very good officers who will serve in the best British political tradition – their masters.

5. Create a relationship of trust and mutual respect with your chief executive. Do not spend your time just barking out orders but explain the reasons behind what you want to see achieved. Share with him/her the broader political perspective that you are experiencing and listen to the consequences of your policies on staff.

6. Encourage people to express opposing views around you. You will find plenty of people willing to agree with you. Those who are brave enough to question are worth cultivating.

7. If you are trying to operate a minority administration talk and keep talking to the other leaders. Bear in mind that you probably will not get the whole of your policy agenda through and also keep in mind that opposing parties will have bottom lines they need to achieve.

8. Accept that no matter how good you are there will be times when you get negative press headlines. The press are neither your friends nor your enemy; they are simply a fact of your life.

9. Listen! If a policy is not working be prepared to change it. Do it honestly and straightforwardly and it will disconcert your opponents. If on the other hand a policy is right but unpopular, explain it! Don’t rely on others to come round to your way of thinking.

10. Enjoy local government. We spend a lot of time telling people how awful it all is but this is the best opportunity you will have to change your community for the better. If that does not excite you, why did you come into politics in the first place?


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