Friday, November 21, 2008

Detroit: A Case Study in Broken Leadership

I have just come back from Detroit for a couple days and I have to say that the spirit in that city is definitely broken. From my talks with the cab driver who picked me up at the airport, to the hotel concierge who told me how to get to Motown (which was not what I had hoped) to the foundation executives whom I met with, everyone I talked to was speaking about the city in very distressed terms. The culture was similar to an individual who has been beaten down time and time again. From scandalous politicians, to closing auto plants to a severely distressed economy, Detroit is suffering.

I began thinking about Detroit in the context of leadership. What could leadership do to assist in this dire circumstance? I think, above all, leadership could have more of a positive effect than any economic injection. Having someone that could throw a vision on the wall and then inspire the city toward that vision would be paramount. Money cannot be the motivator, but surely someone with an eye on a new direction could. Unfortunately, sometimes those people are clouded by the enormity of the challenges.

I also thought about Detroit and how it compares to non-profits in a similar state. The organizations that I see in deep despair are similar, not only because their resources are scarce, the morale is low or leadership is ineffective. More, it is the culture that has been developed by the three converging simultaneously. Breaking past a culture of challenge and failure is harder than winning an organization-saving grant (do these exist?) or bringing on board a new Executive Director. Organizational culture, as it has been described my many non-profit experts, can be the slow death of an organization. Real organizational turnaround cannot happen unless the cancer of a negative organizational culture is reversed.
I hope, for the sake of Detroit, that they can not only find new leadership and inlets for new economic movement, but think the culture will be the largest hurdle to climb.

No comments: