Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dispatch from Denver: Mayoral Leadership

One perk of attending the annual conference of the Governmental Research Association in Denver this week has been to hear a talk by Denver’s Mayor John Hickenlooper. Mayor Hickenlooper was re-elected to his second term with an incredible 87% of the vote, making him one of the most popular mayors in the history of this city…which is probably not entirely attributable to his ownership of a local brewpub.

Mayor Hickenlooper’s popularity is due, in part, to his reputation as a regional leader. His unique consensus-building style has led him to promise to Denver’s suburbs that the region’s largest city would only act on issues in the interest of the region as a whole, and would not work to benefit itself at the expense of its neighbors. So far Mayor Hickenlooper’s record has been impressive in terms of regional cooperation, and he enjoys broad support from his fellow Front Range mayors.

An anecdote he told to explain his leadership philosophy is enlightening. He once read about a professor of communications in Wyoming who taught her students that to have an impact on their audience they should always speak about both the emotion they were striving to convey, and its opposite. For example, to inspire joy one should speak about joy in the context of despair. She then asked her class, “What about woe? What’s the opposite of woe?” To which someone in the back of the Wyoming classroom shouted, “Giddy-up!”

And that has been the Denver mayor’s guiding principle for the past 5 years…when faced with woe, you have to shout, “Giddy-up!” Perhaps the frontier has something to teach us Midwesterners.

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