Mayor Mike Nutter on Leadership

He was a 2-term Mayor of Philadelphia, the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and is now a professor at Columbia University. He was kind enough to have a conversation with me about his experience leading Philadelphia out of a recession and a multi-million dollar deficit. We talk about the public sector versus the private sector, about what it takes to lead in a crisis, about how the private sector differs –and about his views on leadership generally. It’s an incredibly rich conversation.

Below is a very brief  set of excerpts. They can’t do justice to the breadth of this conversation.

I am sharing the video (with minor edits) and a full transcript of our conversation (edited only for accuracy). Links to both are right under the excerpts.

[Mayor Nutter’s comments are italicized. This summary, and the Mayor’s comments, are edited for brevity and clarity. To read the full text, please see the linked transcript]

Leadership weighs differently on a Mayor vs. a CEO:

You run for office, hopefully, more people vote for you than someone else, and you get sworn in. At that moment there is a public compact that is made between you and the citizens. This wonderful American experiment, that power is derived from the people, they give it to you, you hold an office, it’s not yours. It’s actually been sitting there for a while.

Companies have a beginning, a middle, and ultimately, an end. Their leaders are meant to avoid having the company end (die) under their leadership. But that’s not how it is with a city or state:

…In Philadelphia, at least we have two consecutive term limits, right. So, the most you can do, at one time is the eight years. Philadelphia is 400 years old. So eight years in that span– it’s kind of really small. Part of this job is understanding where you are and what you mean, in the whole scheme of things. There will be a Philadelphia there. I don’t know of any city in the country that has gone away. I don’t know, in the year 4000, who knows? But in our lifetimes and in our history, cities don’t go away. They don’t get bought.

How can a Mayor –who is truly a temporary leader– bring his own ideas into the enterprise? What does it take to confront that strange relationship of a new Mayor to an existing city?

Here’s the thing: It’s really important to just to remember that before you came along with all your brilliance, the place was operating. It did exist. It wasn’t there without William Penn having laid out how Philadelphia would be. Right? So, it’s like, “well, we were doing stuff before you got here.”
So, you have to figure out how to fit in. And by the way: ‘You’re not actually going to be here that long. So, don’t get too comfortable — you and all your “brilliant ideas”.’
Given that, you have to merge your interests into an understanding of how this place functions and operates. What’s is the source here? What’s the culture here?

How important is your team, and how can you empower them?

Giving credit, sharing the credit, sharing the glory, whatever the case may be. I think that that is a critical component of leadership.  It’s a reminder, in a public recognition, that you’re not doing all this work by yourself. You’re not the greatest, and you believe in team.

This is just a tiny part of the full interview. The Mayor also shares Nutter’s Rules, short, catchy suggestions for leaders in every sphere. There’s a link below to get the full list! Here’s just one:

Never let somebody else tell your bad news!

 Here are the three links,

I hope you enjoy this!

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