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Business Leadership Lessons From the World's Best Mayor

02/06/2015 05:33 EST | Updated 04/08/2015 05:59 EDT
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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is in town to promote his city as a great place to work, live and do business. September-21,2011 - AMY DEMPSEY/TORONTO STAR Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is in town to promote his city as a great place to work, live and do business. September-21,2011 - AMY DEMPSEY/TORONTO STAR (Photo by Amy Dempsey/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Naheed Nenshi, the Mayor of Calgary, Alberta, was awarded the 2014 "World Mayor Prize" by the World Mayors Foundation. Nenshi is a leader who has broken the mould of city politics and turned government and its traditional forms of communication on its head. This award is so well deserved.

Imagine an award for World's best business leader. Would you be a contender?

I think every leader can learn from what Nenshi has done to reinvent civic government. I had the pleasure of hearing Mayor Nenshi speak a couple of months ago and left inspired to hear about what he has done in Calgary, and how it could apply to any organization or leader. Here are four ways Nenshi demonstrates some of the things you need to do to become one of the world's best leaders.

1. Rally people in support of a higher purpose.

Nenshi encourages all colleagues to ask themselves "how is what I'm doing right now making it better for people to live here?" He rallies city workers around this common purpose of making the city better for everyone.

He doesn't stop there though -- he also involves the community, using his "Three Things for Calgary" initiative. He challenges every citizen to to do three things to make the community better. These things can be simple, like shovelling a neighbour's driveway, or much larger, like running for council. Regardless, if every Calgarian (that's 1.2-million people) did three things each year to benefit the community, imagine the impact.

Take a look at your organization. Imagine if every employee did three things each year to benefit the mission of the company -- from helping individuals in the organization, to bringing forward a great initiative, to implementing an idea that creates heightened customer loyalty - what might the impact be? As a leader, think about the higher purpose for your team and your organization and work to rally your employees and customers around it.

2. Default to transparent communication

During Calgary's devastating flood of 2013, Nenshi made the decision to tell the public everything. He told his team "If we are going to hold anything back, I need to be a part of that decision." Throughout the process of dealing with the flood, they shared the progress, including when they thought the state of emergency would end, what was happening in which neighbourhoods, and where people could help. They ended up not every needing to hold any information back.

Imagine if your senior leadership team shared the information behind their decisions? Imagine if departments shared the projects they were working on and information they had access to, frictionlessly? Wouldn't everyone be able to make better decisions?

3. Trust people

Transparency is a key factor in giving and building trust. In Nenshi's case, he decided to trust the citizens of Calgary to do what was best during a crisis. While many leaders would feel a need to command and control the volunteer effort to help the neighbourhoods affected by the flood, Nenshi trusted them. When thousands more volunteers showed up to help than were expected, and the city was not prepared to organize them, Nenshi simply said:

"Just go help. Go to the impacted neighbourhoods and go door to door. You'll know what to do."

His expectations of the citizens were fulfilled, as that was just what they did. Thousands of volunteers helped thousands of residents they didn't know, cleaning out their homes, salvaging what they could, helping to save memories. Others supported their fellow volunteers with food, water, and transport of supplies. They organized themselves without any command and control.

How much do you feel the need to command and control your team's actions? What if you simply gave up power to them and trusted that they would do a great job? Imagine how much less stress you could feel as a leader, and how much more motivated and empowered your team would feel, given your full trust.

4. Practice Digital Fluency

I couldn't write about Mayor Nenshi without talking about his use of social media. The world's best mayor is also one of the best people to follow on twitter. He totally "gets" social. He is continuously interacting with the public, providing advice and answers over social media, sharing important information for his city, and spreading and supporting local stories through retweets.

During the crisis, Nenshi was sharing city actions as well as what the community was sharing with him about their actions within different neighbourhoods. The way Nenshi connects with his constituents using social media, retweeting about their lost pets, business initiatives, birthdays, community events and more is a case study in how leaders can build amazing support and community in 140 characters.

Digital Fluency -- the ability to communicate, connect, and continuously learn about using technology -- is the business literacy of this century. Whether you are an elected leader or one appointed within your organization, the ability to try new ways of communicating, to interact with people using technology, and to do so in real time, sets a great leader above an average one.

Check out Nenshi's twitter feed for a great example of leadership and authenticity on social media.

Nenshi has reinvented mayoralty. How are you reinventing your own leadership? Are you ready to move your organization forward? You might enjoy and benefit from attending the Reinvent Work Summit, being held May 19, in Toronto. You can apply for your invitation now, here.

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