The importance of why in city and regional leadership

The importance of why in city and regional leadership
Varberg, Sweden © Swedish National Heritage Board

Jan Malmgren, director of the Office for Sustainable and Strategic Planning, City of Varberg, discusses the importance of leading with the why, in regard to city and regional leadership across Europe.

Many leaders would agree that governance is at the core of any agenda in city and regional leadership, in order to reach or maintain sustainable growth, and that citizens need to be involved in dialogue and collaboration, so that transformation is based on the empowerment of people and co-design. Here, I discuss prerequisites for success in such endeavours.

The modern day difficulties of leadership

It is a difficult time to be a leader; in an ever-changing society – within a global context – where people are connected to everyone, and who all care less about their communal obligations and more about what they are entitled to, it is difficult to soar through the ethereal noise. Today’s leadership requires all of the above, yet, extended upon and recontextualised. If you want to come through strong, you need to be very specific with your message. The real challenge for city and regional leadership also lies in how to make any joint effort gain extra momentum and taking that additional step so that real change can be made.

A new era of communication

Any new era needs new communication skills; a more knowledge-based innovative and collaborative society, if that is where we are going, people need to be engaged and commit to change. Building on an understanding of what makes us creative and innovative, and how people today find new ways to share and collaborate, is basic, and sets the playing field. Therefore, in any group of people, this is the first step of the journey: finding each other, our skills and how they add to the group.

Second, we need a common shared history – no matter what context we arrived from – amongst the group. Can we build a framework that connects our history to where we are now, and that guides us to the path ahead?

In any corporation or organisation, this sets the platform for understanding purpose and meaning, and something that we can add our own personal skills too, which is step three. With the fourth step comes the most important aspect, which is where so many fail. The shared objective, simply stated, must be mutually understood. This formulates where we are going and when to arrive, as well as how we see, feel and know, that the objective – or goal – has been attained. It is the very foundation on which we build our strategies and action plans. The simpler the goal, the more likely we will get there and succeed with our joint efforts.

Cross generation understanding

Finally, what modern leaders in city and regional leadership need to understand, more than anything, is how much the why means to young and motivated people. Why do we strive for that goal? Why do we need to get there? Why will it matter for us as individuals, for the group and for the corporation or organisation, or even to the society or the world?

The more the why connects with the group – with guts and heart if need be – the more committed everyone will be in striving towards that goal. Commitment is really what it is all about. We want to feel involved, we want our joint efforts to matter, and we want to join in and contribute to a more sustainable society. Modern leadership is all about facilitating commitment and change, and it must start with you – the leader.

Jan Malmgren, PhD
Office for Sustainable and Strategic Planning
+46 340 88 000


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