Demand measurable change from
our public sector leaders

I found myself explaining to a friend that street-action is to leading as “no” is to selling:
it’s a message to be heeded and (only at its most extreme) an outright rejection of the ‘sale’.

Two important studies have quietly appeared during the last few weeks placing Rochester at the top of significant national lists. One, by an MIT professor of economics, places Rochester as first among 102 cities nationwide with the ingredients to show substantial economic growth. The second, developed by writers associated with the Wall Street Journal, identifies Rochester as among the fifteen “Worst Cities for Black Americans.” We’re used to this whiplash!

Study after study has boasted of our tremendous economic, artistic, and human potential and blasted our performance on the scales of social justice.  Rochester has always been rich with talented leaders. But, with this pool of talent, our schools should be better, our rates of poverty should be lower, and our racial and ethnic tensions and inequalities should be long-remedied. We don’t need more lists of talent or organizations; we need the talented leaders of our civic, nonprofit, and community organizations to be more mission-focused, courageous, and effective.

Until Rochester builds community among our talented leaders; until we prioritize collaboration and collective impact in how we recognize and reward, fund and promote our public sector leaders; until we demand mission-related outcomes – that is, real measurable change – resulting from the work of our public sector leaders, we will fail to meet our potential for all Rochesterians.

In Rochester, we can flip this picture by building caring relationships among our leaders; supporting leaders’ hard work to make change happen collectively as well as in their home organizations; incentivizing productive collaboration as opposed to competition; raising the bar on what we expect and accept of leaders as agents of measurable change; and encouraging leaders to neither fear their own mistakes nor the successes of other leaders. These aspirations ring equally true in every one of Rochester’s racial/ethnic communities.

We will make little progress in our region if the impulse among our leaders is, first, to compete, tear down or diminish the efforts of other leaders. We’ve been socialized to do this and we see it all around us today. Collaboration and collective impact call on us, first, to seek mutual benefit and common cause because the answers never rest in just one of us, and our power is multiplied when we work together.

And you don’t have to hold some formal position or title to be a leader. Practically speaking, being a leader involves little more than (1) having a vision and (2) strategically building and managing relationships to achieve that vision (or something very close to that vision). This means that you, your neighbor, your partner, and I are all prospective public sector leaders. So the message for us is as true as it is for those in formal positions of public leadership: we’ll make little progress if we spend our energy competing, tearing down, or diminishing; we’ll cause change if we seek common cause and opportunities for collaboration.

Today, Rochester has active organizations and networks working tirelessly to develop common goals and metrics for improving the lives, education, health, welfare, and prosperity of children and families in Rochester. These goals and metrics can make great starting points for each of our leadership efforts. Here’s my advice: When another leader steps forward with a new idea that even vaguely aligns with a goal and metric you care about, don’t compete or throw a block but, rather, shake hands, influence its direction and strengthen its impact by adding your idea and partnering to achieve it.

Hank Rubin, Ph.D. is with Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, a board member of The Children’s Agenda, retired vice president of Rochester Area Community Foundation, author of Collaborative Leadership: Developing Effective Partnerships for Communities and Schools