On Being The Mayor

A few weeks ago, I happened to be walking on the beach with my friends Sally and Steve. There was a a sandcastle building contest going on, and though we weren’t competing, we had some friends who were; a little “advance scouting” would have strategic value. Plus, it beat doing the digging ourselves :-)

Sally took point and led us around the beach with a warm smile. “Hey, what are you building?” she’d ask with a friendly and welcoming tone. To my great surprise, everyone responded in kind, after just the briefest of pauses, detailing what they were up to. “That’s great!” Sally would beam, adding personalized commentary like “That’s the best mermaid we’ve seen! Awesome!” or “Wow, that’s really original and great! Good luck!”

It had never occured to me that I could just walk up to someone and ask them what they were doing, without having some “reason” to do so. It was all in the way you did it, apparently. I commented on this by exclaiming, “Sally, it’s like you’re the MAYOR OF THE BEACH!”

It hit me then that being the mayor was a powerful mindset worth cultivating.

Mayoral Behavior

When I got home, I started thinking about related experiences…there was something behind this “mayor” business that I liked.

  • I was visiting my sister in Providence, and we stopped somewhere to grab some snacks. We saw an old guy on a bike who seemed to take a keen interest in what was happening on his street corner. I remember that he radiated a kind of crazed bonhomie for his fellow citizens, who gave him a “respectfully wide” berth as they scurried around him. I was actually impressed, though, by how involved he was in the patroling of his street corner, and declared to my sister that he must be “the mayor”.

  • I was at Waterfire in downtown Providence several years ago, which is a cool city event featuring bonfires lit along the canal. At the time, Buddy Cianci was the mayor of Providence; I’d heard stories from other Rhode Island residents how he ran a corrupt city government, but he’s also associated with Providence’s renaissance, and everybody seemed to like him. And even with his political machine was crumbling around him, he always had time to to kiss babies, shake hands, and sprinkle a little bit of the mayoral magic on any event that needed it; the joke is that if there was the opening of an envelope, Buddy would be there. Crooked or not, Buddy loves his city…that’s an important part of being The Mayor. At Waterfire, he was riding up and down the canal on a gondala, enthusiastic cries of “Buddy!” following in his wake.

  • Just last week I was visiting downtown Manchester, New Hampshire. According my friend Scott, the downtown Manchester area has seen incredible revitalization; the way he tells it, you would have been taking your life in your hands by walking on Elm Street just 10 years ago. Now, there were trendy pubs alongside the respectable shops, every street corners dotted with ice cream parlors and decorative iron gatework. As we crossed a side street, I noticed that the couple walking toward us had an unusual “presence” about them; after they passed, Scott said, “Did you see the guy who just walked past us?” I quipped, “Yeah, who was that? The mayor?” Scott was taken aback by the rapidity of my answer, and explained, “No, that it was the EX-mayor”. I thought how strange it must be to be the ex-mayor, walking the streets of his former stomping grounds. His connection with the city still clung to him, such that an out-of-towner like me could still sense it.

  • A few years ago I was one of the principals at ActiveEdge, a company that was playing co-host to a small business technology event featuring a visit by Senator Joseph Lieberman. At the time Lieberman was part of a congressional technology council on the Internet, and was sweeping through New Hampshire talking to small high tech firms. I was curious to see what the experience would be like, especially since I was going to have a chance to talk to him. Though he was relatively short of stature, Lieberman was remarkably self-possessed and smooth. On TV he had never made an impression, but in person he had real presence and confidence, present and fully engaged in the moment. It was rather remarkable to witness the way a seasoned politician navigated the crowd of people while retaining control of the situation and, most importantly, himself.

Historically, I’ve regarded myself as being rather introverted, especially when it comes to navigating social situations with a lot of people I don’t know. Sally’s example on the beach was an interesting example of how to work a crowd from a place of genuine interest, and that generated the positive feeling that I associate with the memories I have above. In the past, I’ve dealt with social situations by becoming the host. For me, it’s a lot less stressful if I’m responsible for doing something or have a role to play, so being the one who throws the party is strangely more relaxing. It occurs to me that being the mayor may be my next level of social comfort.

Being the Mayor

When people talk of “owning their job” or “taking responsibility”, they often speak of it in terms of individual drive, in response to some externally-imposed organizational need. Some people are assigned that responsibility, while others just take it. In either case, the emphasis is on individual responsibility and getting the work done. While this is all well and good, it strikes me that if you added a little mayoral interest to the mix, you might end up having a lot more fun. No one told Sally that she had to go out and engage the beach with her genuine and open interest in what people were doing. She just did it authentically, and people responded in kind. So what’s it like to be the Mayor? Here’s my take on it:
  • The Mayor should project civic pride and inclusivity of community.

  • The Mayor should be a source of positive energy as the appointed representative for local issues and affairs, so things keep moving forward in the spirit of public interest.

  • The Mayor should drop by and show interest in what you’re doing, you can’t help but feel the connected with the community.

  • The Mayor represents your home town. That’s far more compelling and immediate than a lot of things occuring at the state or national level. The Mayor has just enough civic responsibility to be of interest to everyone in the town, but not so much that he/she is inaccessible.

Applying this to myself, I’ve just realized that this blog is my home town, and that makes me The Mayor:

  • I’m constantly tending to it to make it an attractive and friendly place for the people who like hanging out here.

  • I feel a little surge of “civic pride” whenever I make an improvement to the site infrastructure. When I added email RSS subscriptions, I felt the same sense of pleasure that the transportation chief might get from adding a new bus line.

  • I’ve kept advertising to a bare minimum, which is the equivalent to passing ordinances about overly large and ugly signs.

  • I’m planning on building pages specifically tailored toward more commercial activity; that’s analogous to zoning the blog for commercial use.

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p>I’ve noticed since my beach trip that I’m starting to interact with people in the same way as Sally. As I’ve learned to live more in alignment with my values it’s even become “the place that I’m from”. So now when I’m out visiting people I haven’t met before, I think of myself of being from my “blogtown”. You know how people from NYC are New Yorkers, and it sticks to them? That’s what I’m talking about. My sense of identity has become more firmly anchored, and since I’m the mayor of my blogtown, I represent the ideals that I write about: empowerment, inspiration, and learning how to get things done. As the Mayor, it’s my job to smile and spread a little of that civic joy around, because you know what? I love it.

It’s good to be the Mayor. :-) Try it!