As a leader, learning to successfully manage a crisis happens while on the job, in real time. A crisis will prove to be one of the most challenging yet defining moments of any mayor’s career. Now more than ever, newly-elected mayors need support–so the kickoff for our 2020 New Mayors Cohort last month was particularly timely. Following our successful pilot of this project last summer, we prepared for this year’s cohort to kickoff with a two-day intensive workshop in Dallas. Due to COVID travel limitations, we pivoted in mid-March to a virtual kickoff meeting. In our first session, our new mayors learned from former mayors: Betsy Hodges (Minneapolis), Mark Mallory (Cincinnati), and Annise Parker (Houston).
This panel of mentor mayors provided thoughtful, forward-looking advice to our new mayors on leading through crises. And because their insights provide valuable guidance to local leaders, more broadly, we’re sharing the top line takeaways.
“There is only one mayor at a time.”
Mayor Mallory urged mayors to remember that they can direct the resource of their leadership, and they are in charge of that resource. He also noted that other community leaders can be a valuable asset in helping mayors. Mayors can “extend their glitter” by leveraging their power to collaborate with other leaders to lead on their behalf. Mayor Parker reminded mayors that they are expected to lead, even in the absence of county, state or federal leadership.
“Communicate, communicate, communicate.”
Mayor Hodges described the critical importance of communicating messages, repeatedly and across platforms, to ensure the message is received. People want to know they are in good hands. All three mentor mayors stressed that communication is foundational in a crisis. As Mayor Mallory noted, “people want to hear that you have a plan.” Frequent press conferences, press releases, social media posts, blog posts, videos, etc. help set expectations and remind the community of the City’s time and attention devoted to addressing the issue.
“The best crisis management is good relationships.”
Mayor Parker discussed how mayors should systematically build relationships with grasstops leaders, opening up communication and ensuring leaders know how to reach you. Mayor Mallory also noted that the way to address a lack of diversity in your advisors is to just infuse the diversity yourself: bring in the voices and advisors you want. Mayor Parker noted that now is the time to reach out and invite participation from traditionally marginalized groups to be involved.
Staff is everything.
Mayor Mallory commented, “I only hire people who are smarter than me.” And Mayor Parker asserted, “Your staff is more important than you are and their competence will be seen as your competence.”
“Your budget will take a hit.”
All three mayors stressed the need to move forward with trimming budgets as soon as possible, because it will get harder as we move deeper into the crisis. Mayor Hodges suggested knowing your budget well, as it is the most important policy a city has, even more so in a crisis.
Prioritize your mental health.
Prepare to lead through the long haul of this crisis. Make a plan for self-care, and acknowledge that you have your own fears as well.
Through this pandemic and beyond, the Mayors Innovation Project is here to provide mayors with innovative policy solutions and a critical network of peer to peer learning and support. We are grateful to our mentor mayors for sharing their insights with our exceptional class of new mayors.
Are you a new mayor interested in learning more about a future cohort, or a seasoned mayor in need of fresh ideas? Learn more about how we help mayors succeed here, then contact us to learn more.