At a candidate forum a few months ago I was asked if I could share an example of my leadership and demonstrate what the results were.

It got me thinking. There are basically three forms of leadership.


The first type of leadership involves starting something you know wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t shown initiative. This is the clearest (and rarest) type of leadership. For instance, there are at least two places in my life (outside of electoral politics) where I’ve demonstrated that. 

When my husband and I moved to the West Side in 1998, I noticed a smokestack near our home, and subsequently discovered it was a coal burning utility.  I was shocked to learn we were still burning so much coal for electricity. When Xcel said it was considering cleaning up the plant either by putting on pollution control equipment (which wouldn’t have captured mercury reduced other pollution enough) or converting to natural gas, I thought the community should have a voice in deciding what happened.

So I got involved by joining my West Side district council environment committee. We started educating the community: visiting different ethnic groups with translators, visiting babysitting groups, visiting everywhere we could.  I was advised that since the Minneapolis Riverside plant was also up for conversion, we needed to reach out to the other side of the river (so the cities weren’t played off against each other by Xcel) and so community could speak with one voice. I led the effort to do the outreach and formed Clean Energy Now.   Eventually we experienced an amazing victory when both plants were converted to natural gas (something that had only happened 3 times before since the 1970s Clean Air Act in the entire country.)

I’m clear that if I hadn’t reached out beyond the immediate community, that we would never have formed the grassroots coalition that brought about that victory.  (If you want to learn more about that effort, please go to: http://www.elizabethdickinson.org/videos and scroll down to where I produced a documentary highlighting the overall effort…)

(And as I’ve made clear, showing environmental leadership, particularly around energy concerns is something I want to prioritize as mayor.)

Another instance where I demonstrated leadership as an initiator is when I worked as an advocate/lobbyist for Healthy Legacy as the only person lobbying an opposing party on getting the toxic chemical bisphenol A out of plastic baby bottles. My advocacy resulted in 1/3 of the opposing party voting for my group’s bill.  If you’ve followed legislative politics, you’ll know how rare/challenging it is to get genuinely significant bi-partisan support for bills with substance.

A third instance is when I initiated a professional award to recognize organization excellence in coaching at both for-profit and non-profit organizations for the Minnesota Chapter of the International Coach Federation.  Everyone had been talking about doing this for years, but no one had stepped forward to lead that effort.  Once I initiated the process, our honorees included Barr Engineering, Pregnancy Choices, Better Futures Minnesota, Cargill, Pepsi, Target, Thrivent, Itasca County, Northway Group, and Fairview Physician Associates.

A second type of leadership is collaborative leadership.  This means joining with others to work on a goal on which you all agree, or in taking leadership over something that was started by others. This may be the most common leadership type. Leadership may be shared-some people take charge of one aspect and others lead other aspects of the project. For instance, once I demonstrated leadership by reaching out about the coal burning plants, other people stepped up to take charge of different aspects and it became a jointly run, collaborative enterprise.

The last type of leadership is where you have a title. You are an executive director, an elected official, or a president or leader of a company, club, board, or task force, whether hired, elected or appointed. Even if you take the lead on a few projects, often your main concern is keeping the organization running and viable.

The most rare type of leadership is the first type. This is when you can say confidently “I did that,” and you know in your heart that you were the group’s lynchpin or the main factor in achieving something. You know you were the key person in starting or holding a project, team or organization together. Frankly, this type of leadership takes an enormous amount of energy because you may be simultaneously holding a vision of what you could achieve, while at the same time doing a lot of the detailed work to make it a reality.  I know what that takes.

Ultimately, I believe a mayor needs to demonstrate all 3 kinds of leadership:  she must be able to initiate a certain amount of projects that wouldn’t take place without her leadership, she must be able to support specific existing projects and she must keep the city departments running efficiently and well.  I stand ready to demonstrate all three kinds of leadership.


Thanks for listening,

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