Monday, March 2, 2015

Why Relationships Mattered In Chicago's Mayor's Race

Almost one week ago, a small percentage of voters in Chicago made their wishes known. They wanted a choice to the current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Let me start by saying, I don't have a true horse in this race as a suburban Chicagoland dweller. Yes, indirectly, my life and business are affected by the viability of the great city of Chicago but I want it clear that this commentary is coming from an outsider's view.

Relationships mattered a lot in the 2015 Chicago Mayor's race. Really, the lack of relationships mattered most.

I have followed Rahm's tenure as mayor and it has been contentious. And, my goodness, why wouldn't it have been? He followed the 22 year reign of Richard M. Daley. Chicago was and continues to be at a crossroads. The gem of the midwest, Chicago has always had an underdog feel to it. Second to other parts of the country in a host of categories yet gritty enough to claim leadership in a select few areas, Chicago has always had a "Phoenix" feel of rising from the ashes of one setback to a bigger and better place, again and again.

Rahm Emanuel swept back in town with tight business and Washington ties and connections that he promised to use to bring Chicago into a greater position to live up to its promise as the heart of the nation.  From my seat, he did lots of that. He has strengthened the city's position as a tech hub contender. He set an aggressive energy and sustainability agenda that he's been successful in executing. He increased access to STEM opportunities for the most under served students in the city.  He's opened access to free early undergrad education to any high schooler that qualifies.

So what's the problem? Why is Emanuel facing a runoff by a candidate he outspent 12 to 1?

It's not what he did, it's how he did it.

People think Rahm Emanuel is ruthless. Google his name and not one article is written without reference to the term "ruthless operative." People don't see Rahm as a leader, they seem him as an operative. I don't know if it's true but I know he could have managed his perception better had he built authentic relationships throughout the city. I can relate to Rahm on the perception of being cold and heartless. 

As a leader, I have the ability to make tough decisions and compartmentalize my emotions as well. People perceive that as being heartless. I get it. And to some degree, I do believe it's slightly true with me. The first and best nurturer in my life passed away when I was 4 years old and that fact absolutely plays into the level of compassion I am able to have and convey. But I learned early in life that no one cares that I grew up without my mom. People expect me to be sympathetic. People expect me to be empathetic. People expect me to care about them and what affects them. That was and continues to be true in any setting I operate in and want to influence. 

Therefore, I make it a point to surround myself with other leaders with bigger hearts than mine. People close to me, who advise, guide and often times, represent me and my business when I cannot. They are my team. Hand cultivated and selected to compliment the areas where I am deficient.

Where is Rahm's team? Again, it is a spectator sport,  for me, watching Chicago politics. I don't gain anything with Rahm or his challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia at the helm in Chicago's City Hall. As a fellow leader who is known for making tough decisions and having tough conversations, I'd be remiss not to send a message to Rahm.

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Do the work. 
Build relationships with your constituents, not just the important ones. 
Curate an advisory staff to help you navigate and relate in areas you are deficient. 
Be inclusive, gain insight and co-create solutions with the people most affected by your decisions.
And enable others to lead. 

It may be too late for this election but these truths are evergreen and can go with you where ever you wish to lead.


A fellow tough leader.

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