Courage to lead: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras

True leaders are rare. Especially among  elected government officials, who tend to make tough decisions based on how it will affect their re-election chances.

One of those rare leaders is Providence Mayor Angel Taveras,  guiding the city and its people through some exceedingly painful yet necessary decisions in order to fill a $110 million  deficit.  And Providence isn’t just any city. It’s been historically  fraught with corruption, closed-door wheeling and dealing, and an unhealthy influence of self-serving insiders.

I often hear people excuse leaders’ inability to lead, saying things like, “Well he’s got a complicated situation to deal with.” Or, “It will take years for anyone to be able to change this place.”

Yet Taveras is deftly guiding the city through difficult change in order to get on firm financial footing. Imagine being a first-time urban city mayor and having to make tough decisions like closing schools and laying off community teachers, firefighters and police?

Despite these always unpopular decisions, Traveras is earning respect and collaboration from his constituents. The reason? He’s focused on doing what’s right, and working WITH diverse constituents. He isn’t dictating how to get to financial stability; he is collaborating in the true sense of the word with the people in the city who best know how to make changes on a tactical level.

Six critical leadership competencies that Taveras brings as mayor:

  1. Focus on a clear, shared goal: restoring the city to a sound fiscal foundation. Taveras’ message is clear about the urgent need to solve the deficit crisis.  Period.
  2. Honesty: revealing the city’s dire financial situation right after his election. No spinning bad news. No taking time to socialize ideas and tend to politics. Taveras has been a straight shooter, presenting the reality, and calling for people to come together to figure out solutions.
  3. Transparency, sharing: sharing the data to help everyone make better decisions.  Fire union president Paul Dougherty recently said that previous mayoral administrations would withhold financial information and often say, “Find it yourself.”  Taveras’ negotiators, however,  have “been straightforward, and they give you information when you ask for it.”
  4. Admitting missteps: acknowledging mistakes and learning from them. “They’re right,” said Taveras of crticism from the teachers union on how the city revealed teacher layoffs. “We certainly could have done a better job with our teachers and I learned from it.”
  5. Not having the answers: great leaders set goals and ask people with a stake in the outcome to create the best way to achieve those goals.  This approach speeds change. The solution isn’t dictated from above, it’s created by the people closest to the issues who know the issues, and will  be responsible for executing them. Taveras doesn’t claim to have the answers, and believes that Providence’s leaders have the ability to create the “how” now that the why is so vitally clear.
  6. Belief and fortitude: Taveras has a steadfast belief that the city will solve its problems, and he’s steadfast in his belief and his values. “He’s showing me intestinal fortitude that I didn’t think he had,” says Joseph Rodio, a lawyer for the police union. “Most politicians, in their first 60 days in office, become somebody different. He hasn’t.”

Quite simply, Mayor Taveras seems to have the courage to govern for the people and with the people.  That’s the type of leader — not politician — we should be supporting if we really want to make our cities, states and country a better place to live.