Taking several steps back . . . Hmmm!
July 9th, 2009Back in 1956 sociologist C.Wright Mills wrote a book titled, The Power Elite and there are others who wrote about power, who has it and why they have it. I majored in Sociology many, many years ago and I still recall reading these commentaries that basically said if you aren't a CEO, in a particular social class and don't have money, then you are powerless. Just pack your bags because you are not going to be able to change a thing. Disheartening.
In recent years, readers of this blog may recall that I tout the book Leadership on the Line, Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. I refer to this book often as it provides clear examples of "adaptive leadership" which I believe has and will help resolve and address the knotty issues in our world, our nation, the state of Michigan and at local levels. Worth the time to read it.
This morning, I opened up a Google Alert that I have set for one of a variety of topics I have arranged for scanning purposes. This particular filter is "community leadership" and what popped up was a column that The Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley wrote in today's edition of The News.
Mr. Finley laments the fact that Detroit has lost corporations and along with it corporate wealth and that is true. However, to dream of days when the business titans would "save" a city is just not reality today in 2009.
Are we "back to the future"? Now my big qualifier is this: the DeVos and Van Andel families are remarkable and the entire community is grateful for their tremendous gifts and leadership! However, I am sure that they would also say that it takes an "entire community" to be catalyzed into action and committed to growing a thriving city and region. And that frankly is what it takes for sustainable systemic change. In fact, I have heard Rich DeVos talk about the need for others to take hold of the problems in our area, to take responsibility and be a part of the solution.
In reading the article, think about what Mr. Finley says about Max Fisher and Henry Ford regarding the building of the Renaissance Center. The RenCen back then was the hope for the future and I am sure that many people in the Detroit area are grateful to both of these "titans" and should be. What ultimately is the long lasting impact and how has the leadership of the community been honed to work together collaboratively is more the point in today's efforts with an eye to success. I grew up in Detroit and remember well the hope that was created when the gleaming glass towers of the RenCen went up. Decades later, I also remember with great sadness the emptiness of the lobby and public areas. Hope had been dashed.
New leadership structures need to be created and a city needs to be transformed to recognize that different industries need to be built and nurtured and new skills need to be developed which is what the Detroit area foundations and others are trying to do - - - together!
Collaboration - a variety of leaders - building new industries - providing hope - transforming our cities and the state of Michigan doesn't just take a few people - it takes a strong connection to all leaders in the community. Yet here is Mr. Finley's parting sentence: "But leadership of the Ford/Fisher caliber is what it will take to save Detroit." My comment: There is no silver bullet. And frankly there never has been. It is going to take committed leadership on the part of business, labor, government, foundations, and the citizenry of the community. We aren't immune in Grand Rapids either and we are working together to help our community and the state dig its way out of the current dismal financial crisis.