The role of mayor doesn’t always require being “the lead dog on the sled,” said Sly James. Rather, it’s an opportunity for a bridge between those knowledgeable enough to make change, the outgoing KCMO mayor added.
“I sit in a position where — let’s say generally, not always — when I call, people call me back,” said James. “I try to use that in a constructive way. Usually I am able to convene people and be there to offer my assistance.”
“I don’t know enough about a lot of things to be in charge,” he continued. “Sometimes I need to be the cheerleader.”
Championing the position of “supportive team member” is just as valuable as a visionary leader, James told a crowd gathered last month for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s State of Entrepreneurship address event.
Click here to read more about the State of Entrepreneurship address in which they discussed Kauffman’s Indicators, which have shown a rise in entrepreneurship nationally.
“When people see that you’re willing to subjugate your own pride for the good of the overall, I think that’s what builds trust, because at the end of the day, we all want to be able to work with the people that have our back and are going to support the overall mission — not just use it as a springboard for their own egotistical dreams,” he said.
After two terms as mayor, James is set to leave the KCMO post this summer, following the June 18 election of a new top city leader. The primary vote is set for April 2.
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With James’ days in office now numbered, he reflected on his impact on the level of diversity in city government.
“I don’t know that I can say that I’ve, specifically, done much to diversify [city government,]” James told the Kauffman crowd. “I can say that I think people have a misunderstanding of what [‘diversity’] really means.”
“Why would you invite someone who’s different than you to come join [your organization] but maintain a culture of ‘us versus you’? Say, ‘You’re new to us. Do what we say. Act like we act. Be white like us or be a woman like us,’ rather than ‘Let’s see how we can build something together?’” he asked.
Those interested in cultivating diversity within organizations must first make sure the organization’s culture is willing to accept such diversity, James said.
“You can’t just invite someone in and do exactly what you’ve been doing and expect them to change what their doing in order to fit that culture,” he said. “That will drive people out and create more of a barrier than you started with.”
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