Photo by cranberries on Flickr.
For many Fenty supporters including myself, Michelle Rhee, Gabe Klein and Harriet Tregoning are the main reasons to vote to reelect Adrian Fenty. Vincent Gray, when asked why he won’t say whether as Mayor he would keep Chancellor Rhee, argues that reform does not depend on one person.
Actually, reform does depend on one person, a leader who shows leadership. Reform and accountability of leaders are inseparable.
That’s why Rhee often tells teachers that reform in their classroom depends on the teacher, and that she will not tolerate excusing low expectations of students due to their economic or family situations. Likewise, Rhee tells principals that reform of their schools depends on one person, the principal. In the same way, reform of the school system depends on one person, Rhee, reform of transportation depends on one person, Klein, and reform of DC government depends on one person, the Mayor.
I co-founded a company 10 years ago, and had to learn quickly how to delegate. My partner turned me on to Stephen Covey’s work on delegation in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It consists of the following steps. First, tell someone clearly what results you expect from them. Second, tell them what resources they have to work with. And third, tell them what the consequences of achieving results and of failure will be.
While the contributors to GGW are generally policy-wonks, it’s interesting to note that being a policy-wonk is not necessary to delegate well. That’s why the model of effective leaders explained in Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Level 5 Leaders, is of leaders who focus on “who, then how”. Level 5 leaders recognize their limitations in a complex environment, and focus first on getting the right people on the bus, not on crafting a detailed vision of how results should be achieved.
That’s why it’s unfair to credit the Mayor’s cabinet members, particularly those with whom we tend to be aligned on urbanist issues like Klein and Tregoning, for their results and not also credit Fenty. The Mayor’s selection of and delegation of responsibilities to Klein and Tregoning are far more important than his level of knowledge about the details of planning.
As Fenty often says, his most important job is to hire A+ people who share his overall vision. The fact that people are excited about the results of many in Fenty’s cabinet, and wonder what exactly the Mayor contributed, is itself a testimony to Fenty’s successful delegation. Would that your boss clearly delegated to you, avoided micromanaging you, and let you have the glory.
Does Fenty sometimes, though rarely, involve himself in a negative way in transportation and planning decisions? Yes. Has Fenty made appointments to other, mainly non-cabinet posts that have not helped make Washington a livable, walkable city? Yes. Can I explain these missteps? Yes, Fenty is not perfect. But he’s very good on urbanist issues, and we shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Should Fenty’s missteps make urbanists nervous about Fenty’s commitment to a livable, walkable city? Absolutely not. Fenty has spent so much political capital on bike lanes and streetcars that occasional meddling in a bike lane design is hardly a reason to worry about his level of commitment. Why would he take so many potshots about supporting gentrifyers’ transportation toys if the vision for the city being implemented by Klein and Tregoning wasn’t backed wholeheartedly by Fenty himself?
Furthermore, the critiques of Fenty by some progressive advocates such as the Sierra Club, seems to lack perspective. The Sierra Club’s Jim Dougherty casts Fenty’s transportation results as “continuing Williams’ bicycle and streetcar initiatives,” while saying that “defending Poplar Point,” which Fenty wants to develop, “is the Sierra Club’s top land-use priority.”
However, land use changes result much more from transportation infrastructure and zoning changes than from individual land use decisions, and on both fronts Fenty has delivered world-class results. To characterize Fenty’s transportation results as merely a continuation of Williams’ initiatives is simply unfair, as the progress of both initiatives, and the political price paid, rose dramatically once Fenty appointed Klein to DDOT. And does Dougherty even mention the rewrite of the zoning code initiated by the Office of Planning? No.
Questioning of Fenty’s commitment to the results achieved by Klein and Tregoning is particularly surprising given the consensus among urbanist activists during the first two years of Fenty’s administration that we would have to wait for a second Fenty term for any ambitious transportation and planning initiatives. I was there, and we mostly agreed that education reform would be the only politically risky initiative Fenty would undertake in his first term.
We don’t need a policy address on planning and transportation from the Mayor to know that Fenty supports a livable, walkable city. We just need to look at his results. Reform actually does depend on one person. That’s why I will be enthusiastically voting for Adrian Fenty this Tuesday.