Two Aspiring Leaders Talk Leadership

The Los Angeles mayoral race so far has seen somewhere north of 40 debates, a number roughly on par with the number of Angelenos who actually show up to vote. Nevertheless, while civic engagement is low in the city, some of the conversations surrounding the elections have been interesting.

For instance, at the most recent mayoral debate, the two remaining candidates, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuelgot asked about leadership. Did they have the leadership skills necessary to do the job well?

Downtown Los Angeles

“Look, I think leadership style is standing up and speaking out on issues that are important to the public, to being honest, and truthful, and able to bring people together,” answered Greuel, who then went on to cite the list of people who had lined up to endorse her. “I have not only [former Los Angeles Mayor] Richard Riordan, Senator Barbara BoxerMagic Johnson, President Bill Clinton, the Chamber of Commerce, and labor leaders and community leaders across the city.”

Garcetti countered, “But it’s not about a list of who has endorsed you. We’re going to make up our mind on our own. And what I want them to know about my leadership is that I’ve been No. 1 in job growth. I’ve tripled the number of parks in my district—not just from one to three, from 16 to 47—and brought Hollywood back.”

Peter Drucker would have found some merit in Greuel’s response. He would have agreed that being honest was an important leadership quality, as is getting people to line up behind you. A “requirement of effective leadership is to earn trust,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “Otherwise, there won’t be any followers—and the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

But Drucker may well have found more to like in Garcetti’s answer. (No, we are not implicitly endorsing either candidate; please, campaign staff, no letters.) For, as we’ve noted, Drucker felt the essence of leadership was performance. Additional city parks may not be the stuff of history books, but it is concrete and results-oriented.

“Leadership is not by itself good or desirable,” Drucker wrote. “Leadership is a means. Leadership to what ends is the crucial question.”

How do you judge leadership skills in a political candidate?