What Daley Teaches Us About Leadership

Last night, at the Economic Club of Chicago’s 333rd Dinner Meeting, I was lucky enough to hear our dearest Mayor, Richard M. Daley, give one of his final speeches as Mayor. In his hallmark frankness and simple tone, he spoke about the progress Chicago has made over the last 20 years and what the future has in store. This was punctuated by a candid, and at times, tongue-in-cheek Q&A session where among other things, the Mayor warned that he’ll be driving a car now for the 1st time in 20 years. \n\nThe Mayor has done a lot for Chicago, but one thing in particular resonated strongly. He dedicated himself to create an environment where people and business can flourish. What that means is that it is not any one person’s responsibility, much less the government’s, to create prosperity, new jobs, and a great society. It means that when the fundamental ingredients are in place, in a city’s case – good education, business-friendly policies, safety and beauty, the city, its people, businesses, and communities will flourish on their own.\n\nNow I love this philosophy for two reasons. Reason number #1 – it’s a fundamental principle of life. Case in point, human beings have evolved and prospered on this planet because over the course of billions of years, the chemical and physical environment on Earth has been one that has facilitated and allowed our existence and subsequent evolution. On a smaller scale, the same is the case with mold. When it appears on your bread, it’s because there exists a perfect confluence of factors for it to grow. Reason number #2 – it doesn’t rob the individual of self-responsibility. When you consider that the role of organizations is only to create an environment for good things to happen, it doesn’t mean that a person in that environment still doesn’t have to actually do things! On the contrary it provides the perfect stage for said individual to shine [and an inexcusable one for them to fail, or worse, complain].\n\nSo now, let me bring it down to business and strategy – my passion and our business. As an executive or leader this makes your job much clearer. It should not be your work to direct your employees to save the company money. Your hours should not be consumed with drawn out phone calls and conversations convincing prospects and contacts on why you can work with them. You should not stay up all night thinking about how you’ll achieve next quarter’s goals. \n\nWhat you need to do is simple – create the foundation for your organization to thrive. Create a culture that empowers and rewards your employees to be conscious contributors to the organization’s financial and strategic goals. Create a brand and message that attracts the customers and partners you want to work with. Implement and follow a strategic plan that maps out your efforts for the year leaving you to focus on new relationships and powerful new ideas. \n\nLeaders are people and people are flawed. The greatest leader Chicago has ever had is a great example. He however overcame himself to enable Chicago to become a global city; one with a reputation for good business, strong communities and getting things done. As a leader you have the power to do the same. By putting the right practices and tools in place you will create a fertile environment and your organization, like Chicago, will become much greater than the sum of the people, philosophy and services that comprise it. \n\n

Related Posts


I love both points you made and your attitude towards leadership. Well said, well said.

Sasha Dzeletovic

Melissa- A very good point. To read more about the notion of the importance of an human innovation “ecosystem” similar to what you are describing, i recommend reading the recently published book WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM. Its all about how innovation is the result of the right mixture of social and intellectual and financial ingredients.

Join the Conversation