Home > Appreciated Quotes, Chatter > Leadership, Empathy And Seeing Values Actualized

Leadership, Empathy And Seeing Values Actualized

Well Put

Leadership [is] building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help. Once you understand what they really value, it’s easy because you can mostly give it to them. You can give them the freedom or direction that they want.”

~ David Kelley, Designing Curious Employees (Fast Co.)

Kelly is describing the relationship he promotes between owners and employees, but it is also what we need more of in the relationship between elected/appointed/hired representatives and the citizenry they represent. We need a better process of communication in our communities in order for them to thrive and truly reflect more of our values. It takes work, dedicated listening skills, and leadership qualities that can help individuals step out of their own reality.

Kelly sums up the above quote with, “the way I would measure leadership is this: of the people that are working with me, how many wake up in the morning thinking that the company is theirs?”

Traverse City’s current mayor expressed similar thoughts concerning the value of empathy applied to governance last fall when he shared the stage with the Chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Derek Bailey, at the 2010 Great Lakes Bioneers Conference (MyWHaT).

Wouldn’t it be nice to have more local representatives encouraging and developing a sense of ownership amongst all of us? There are some who try, but there are plenty who seemingly don’t give-a-damn.


  1. May 16, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Gary: Great topic, thanks for bringing it up. If I could add to your question, I’d like to hear from community members on HOW representatives can develop a sense of ownership? And what is a representative to do when community members have divergent views on projects?


    PS: One thing people may want to keep in mind is that we have many more appointed volunteer-representatives on boards and committees than we have elected officials…

  2. May 16, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for the comment. You’re right, there are certainly a lot of appointed volunteer opportunities in Traverse City, many of which are not as time-consuming as one might think.

    To continue the discussion about the very real and predictable event of divergent ideas being raised, I think that is a healthy tension communities need to embrace. The leadership’s role isn’t to simply choose “A” vs “B”, but to seek and illuminate the commonalities, and recognize the values being expressed. Building off of that understanding (empathy) the decision makers can explore options to achieve those values. It’s a process; humans are complicated.

    Developing a sense of ownership in a community? I can tell you that you don’t achieve it by having government representatives show indifference, even total rejection, of citizen concerns and energy. This is a post I trust I’ll write someday, so I’ll stop here, but needless to say, indifference and rejection of citizen concerns/ideas occurs often. Sometimes it is direct, but typically it is a more subtle and thus, possibly, more disastrous in the long-term.

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