Phil Goldsmith | Candidates & leadership: Who has it? How to know?

WITH ABOUT five weeks remaining until the May 15 primary, I have a feel for where the mayoral candidates stand on various issues.

They have taken brave stances for lower taxes, a better school system, more jobs and a healthier environment. They are against crime, corruption, waste and inefficiency.

In all fairness, they have addressed many of these issues, and others, in greater detail.

But I don't believe the success of the next mayor and, more importantly, the welfare of Philadelphia, depends on the support they give to these issues during a campaign.

Instead, it will depend on whether the next mayor has the right leadership skills to accomplish what he says he is going to.

Frankly, I am still scratching my head, trying to figure out which candidate comes closest to fitting the bill.

What I want to know from each of our candidates is this: How, in a city of more than 100 distinct, proud neighborhoods, does he plan to create a vision for the entire city? And what is that vision? How would he do things differently to achieve that vision?

If he says he wants to "change the status quo," then tell us where, how and when he has done that in the past. And how would he do it this time - particularly if he is part of the status quo.

I want to know how he has involved others to get things done. And what kind of people - with specific names, if he is really bold - would he ask to serve in his government?

I want to know specific examples of when he had the courage to stand alone on an important issue. And how does he go about making important decisions?

Unfortunately, we might not find out the answers to those questions. The candidates are compelled to run from one mayor's forum to another to address the pet issues of the forums' organizers - crime, planning, development, education. I am moderating one such forum today, sponsored by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

Despite the plethora of forums, I still have a hunger for one more: one that allows us to probe the candidates' leadership skills. Perhaps an organization like Leadership Philadelphia can sponsor such a forum.

Leadership is one of those words frequently used but rarely defined. To paraphrase a former U.S. Supreme Court justice in describing pornography, we know it when we see it.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Dan Gott-lieb on his program "Voices in the Family" on WHYY (90.9-FM) discussed the issue of leadership with two experts, Dr. Robert Sternberg from Tufts University and Professor Michael Useem of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. While they didn't talk about the city's mayor's race, I couldn't help but think how their leadership concepts apply to our candidates.

Effective leadership, they agreed, is a synthesis of creativity, intelligence and wisdom.

Creativity, they said, is the ability to come up with a new vision for the organization. The leader then has to have the analytical intelligence to know if it is a good idea and also the practical intelligence to execute it and persuade others of its value. The leader needs the wisdom and integrity to ensure it is for the common good, not just for himself, his family or his friends.

A leader, they stated, also has to be willing to stand alone when necessary but to realize he can't do it alone. He must have the ability and the confidence to put the right team together, people who are supportive but not sycophants. He must be willing to see others' points of views. This is particularly important in a diverse city like ours.

I would add that an effective leader must have the ability and willingness to communicate proactively; he must view the media as an instrument to amplify his message, not a thorn to avoid. Finally, he must be able to relate to the fears and hopes of ordinary citizens, convincing them that he cares about them even when he knows, and they know, he might not be able to solve their problems.

I am not naive enough to think that one particular candidate is going to excel in all these qualities. Nor am I cynical enough to think that none of the candidates possesses any of these qualities.

I do hope, however, that by Election Day I have a better idea of which candidate comes closest to having the right stuff. *

Phil Goldsmith has served in senior positions in the private and public sectors, most recently as the city's managing director. You can read more about his article on his blog at

www.philgoldsmith.blogspot.com. His e-mail is pgold4110@aol.com.