There’s a large bureaucracy that actually runs the city of St. Louis, the real job of the mayor is to decide where the city needs to go and determine the best way to get there, adjusting the course as required by circumstances.
The mayor is really like the captain of a ship sailing in uncharted waters toward a port of call where we’ve never been — the future.
Four years ago I wrote a column about what I thought were the attributes you should consider when making your decision about who should be the next mayor of St. Louis.
Here’s some of what I wrote then: ”...before we talk about who the next mayor should be, we should have a conversation about what the next mayor should be … there are two qualities that are essential to success: intelligence and character ...You can trace most political leadership failure to an insufficient amount of one or both these qualities.”
Today I would substitute integrity for character. Integrity is the practice of consistent and uncompromising adherence to the ethical principles and values you claim. It means you have an inner sense of always knowing who you are.
Intelligence and integrity are critical qualities for a good mayor, but they are insufficient in and of themselves. The necessary essential quality for a mayor to be successful, or any elected political executive for that matter, is political skill.
Political skill can be summed up as the ability to get people to do what you need them to do, when you need them to do it, whether they are inclined to do it or not.
Leadership could be considered a synonym for political skill. The late President Dwight Eisenhower noted leadership is, “the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.”
I haven’t talked about their positions on the issues or the urgent problems facing St. Louis. This is because the candidates’ positions on specific issues will have minimal impact on what happens in St. Louis over the next four years.
British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was once asked by a reporter what was the most difficult thing about being prime minister, “Events, my dear boy, events,” was his reply.
Whatever plan the winner of this election has will become moot the day they’re sworn in. On that day they will be confronted with the reality that whatever they were going to do will have little or no relationship to the circumstances that will dictate what they’ll have to do.
What does this mean if you’re a city voter in this upcoming election? It means you have to understand your job.
My advice is to think of yourself as a NBA or NFL general manager with the first pick in the draft. If you’re that GM, you’re not interested in the player your possible draft pick is today, but the player you need them to be in the future.
You’d focus on what you know are the qualities of a high performing professional athlete, then evaluate the draft choice possibilities against these standards. The focus of your evaluation is not primarily physical talent — it’s the intangibles that are the necessary prerequisites for success.
Presuming the candidates meet the basic qualifications for being mayor, what are the intangible qualities that are the predictor of who has the best chance of being not just a good mayor, but a successful mayor?
I’ve identified these qualities as intelligence, integrity and political skill or leadership. By intelligence, I don’t mean how many degrees they have or what’s their grade point average. I mean what’s their political intelligence?
Like successful professional athletes have a high basketball or football IQ, a successful politician will have a high political IQ. That means they are a student of politics as well as an actor.
They’ve developed an understanding of the nuisances and complexities of the political game, that allows them to anticipate what will happen next, as opposed to reacting after the fact.
Integrity speaks to knowing who you are and why you choose to be in this moment and the confidence people can have in your reliability. In other words, your ability to keep your head when all about you people are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
As important as intelligence and integrity are to being a good leader, they are insufficient to make a successful leader.
History is replete with examples of brilliant people who have been a lost ball in high weeds as political leaders. Good people, honest people regularly lose in the political arena to people with little or no moral capacity. But skilled politicians with marginal intellect and little integrity can regularly win the day.
This is because in the science and art of governing there’s no substitute for political skill. Political skill can compensate for deficiencies in other important qualities, but there is no combination of qualities that will compensate for a lack of political skill.
Understanding how to change direction without changing course, maintaining the support and confidence of the public in your ability to win the game even though the opposition has the lead at the moment. This is the difference between success and failure.
Electing a mayor is like picking that first round draft choice, the future of the franchise or the city is at stake. You have one shot at getting it right, and you have to live with the consequences of your choice.